Mar. 21—The Reading Regional Airport Authority is taking the next step in the process to become the sole provider of fuel and related services at the Bern Township airfield.
At a meeting Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to hire Houston-based JLL Valuation & Advisory Services to conduct a study of a potential sale of the airport's two existing fixed base operations. The facilities currently are owned and operated by Reading Jet Center and Millennium Aviation.
The authority will pay JLL $30,000 to conduct the study.
Berks County Commissioner Christian Leinbach said the firm has been tasked with providing information on three components that will help the board decide if it makes financial sense to exercise its proprietary exclusive right to be the sole FBO at the airfield.
Those components are the purchase price of the two existing FBOs, the cost to convert their operations to the authority and their ongoing operational costs.
"Those three costs are what we will need from JLL to look at return on investment," Leinbach said. "I can tell you now that if it isn't clear that this makes us financially stronger, I'm not going to take that risk."
JLL has 30 days to present that report to the authority after the agreement is signed. And Leinbach said it will go a long way toward determining whether or not the authority moves forward with its plan.
"This is not a foregone conclusion," he said of taking over as the sole FBO. "We need to make sure that this makes long-term sense for the airport."
Tuesday's hiring of JLL followed a decision by the authority last February to officially terminate discussions with Coral Aviation, which had been planning to construct a $12 million FBO and other new facilities at the airport.
Leinbach said Tuesday that ending talks with Coral was necessary for the authority to investigate taking over as the sole FBO.
"Either we were going to continue our negotiations with a potential third FBO or we were going to move forward with these negotiations," he said, referring to discussions about purchasing the two existing FBOs. "Legally, we could not do both. We had to make a decision."
"We believe the opportunity to be the single FBO trumps where we were relative to the negotiations with Coral Aviation," Leinbach added. "We had to make a very hard decision."
Tenants of the airfield expressed a desire for the authority to make a decision on buying the FBOs quickly, saying that having the situation in limbo is bad for business.
"This authority has the airport in turmoil," Steve Kunkle, the owner of an aircraft maintenance company on the airfield, told the board at the meeting. "In other words, there is no direction for the future of the airport. So get this done. Pick a direction and go with it because this is pulling us all apart."
Leinbach said Kunkle makes a valid point.
"That's why we're here," the commissioner said. "We want a clear direction for this airport, a clear purpose for this airport and a clear value to the community as a whole and the aviation community specifically.
"Everyone deserves to know what the long-term plan is and what the strategy is," he added. "I know it may not feel that way but we are moving in that direction."
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