There are some unhappy hangar owners at Glendale Municipal Airport, and then, there are the people with which they are unhappy. One group is so unhappy, its president has called for the resignation of the city’s airport administrator and transportation director.
Glendale Airport Pilots Association President Richard Goldman sent a letter to the city Aug. 27, wherein he cited various reasons his group is not pleased with the airport administrator Walter Fix and the Glendale Transportation Director Jamsheed Mehta.
With hangar inspections coming up in October, Goldman asked in his letter why the inspectors want to take photographs instead of just requesting hangar owners to supply an updated tail number.
He alleges multiple threats and “acts of harassment” concerning the hangar owners’ use of their privately owned hangar spaces. In last year’s inspections, Goldman said they were conducted by airport personnel, city building inspectors, plumbing inspectors, electrical inspectors and fire inspectors, to which he added, “All of which had instructions to find and or create violations.”
Goldman said airport management wants to turn Glendale’s airport into a Deer Valley or Goodyear type of airport, “failing to recognize hangar owners have a 40-year lease on the land, on which the hangars are built with private money, not a penny from the city or state.” He said because of the administration’s inability to “effectively deal with FAA, losing lawsuits and discrimination complaints,” hangar values have decreased in excess of 60 percent.
“No one wants to come to Glendale,” Goldman wrote. “It is no longer known as a user-friendly airport.”
Mehta and Fix talked about the hangar issue last Friday, and attempted to explain the city’s position. Much of the explanation involved the city’s role as a “federal sponsor” because of the federal funding in the way of grants. With those grants come obligations, Mehta said.
“We have to follow their rules,” he said.
Over the years, Mehta said, inspections have taken place, and the FAA frowns upon non-aviation items being stored in hangar spaces. A two-year investigation by the FAA was begun in 2009 after a complaint was filed by an airport hangar owner. Around April or June 2011, Mehta said a final determination came from FAA headquarters.
“We were expected to correct a list of items identified,” Mehta said. “Glendale took it seriously.”
Grants were on the line for updates to the runway, runway extension, ramps and the control tower. The city was told it was not in compliance with grant assurances.
“Millions of dollars for upgrades and expansion were in jeopardy,” Mehta said.
The city was given 30 days to put a corrective action plan in place, and he said voluntary compliance was assured from every hangar owner.
“We’re talking boats and RVs,” Mehta said. “It became rather embarrassing showing what was being stored.”
Some items being stored could cause a fire, Mehta said, noting that a fire was started by an RV at Falcon Field in Mesa.
He said at this point, there are about six hangar owners who are not in compliance. And it is not the city’s intention to bulldoze tenants.
Fix said during the FAA’s two-year investigation, the FAA came around and took pictures while hangar doors were open. A result of that was Glendale Airport was used as a bad example. He said the FAA needs to know the type of aircraft and the tail pin numbers to keep an accurate database of what kind of aircraft is located at a specific airport in each state.
“The bottom line,” Fix said, “I saw this opportunity as a benefit for everyone for accuracy.”
He admitted there were errors made and continuously passed on as OK by the hangar association and those were corrected.
Mehta said when inspectors entered the hangars, there were some safety issues; construction material, a couch next to an aircraft with fuel.
“We’re talking boats and RVs. It became rather embarrassing showing what was being stored.” -- Glendale Transportation Director Jamsheed Mehta.
“What might be termed harassment, I’m sorry, we do have to ask them to open their doors,” Mehta said.
He denied that a threat of forcible entry was made.
Where there were infractions, Mehta said hangar owners were asked to “work it out” with building inspectors and correct at their own pace.
As for values of hangars dropping dramatically, Mehta said it is not just Glendale, it is national. He said there was once a waiting list for hangars, but not anymore.
“There has been a whole shift in the aviation business,” Mehta said. “Fewer people in line for hangars. It is a reflection of the economy. We’re all in the same boat.”
As for Goldman’s allegation of misdirected policies and a failure to properly deal effectively with hangar owners and the FAA, Mehta called it possibly a misunderstanding on the hangar association’s part.
“This isn’t something we came up with,” Mehta said. “This came up from the FAA.”
Fix also said he didn’t understand that allegation, saying it could possibly be a misconception that private hangars are exempt.
“They’re on city owned property,” Fix said. “Rules, regulations and FAA policies apply to everyone, whether private or city owned.”
He said FAA has an interest, and has noticed small airports have turned into general storage, “and they want to make sure (hangar contents) are inherently aeronautical. And not end up in a trend of this compliance issue, make sure things are the way they describe.”
Goldman’s allegation that Fix has been “the most destructive airport manager we have seen inasmuch as creating hard feelings and mistrust between the airport participants and management,” was disputed by Mehta.
He said, “We haven’t had an airport administrator with qualities he brings to us in the longest time … He has taken the airport to a higher level.
“A lot of positive changes, small as they may be, add up. In spite of being under investigation, we have still worked hard enough with the FAA to make sure the flow of funds has not stopped.”
Fix said he was going to continue with an outreach and understanding as the city goes through the compliance process. He said he has been working with pilots most of his life, as a planner and director of operations, and “I’m always happy when I reach out one on one.”
Still, at some point, the FAA is going to demand 100 percent compliance, city spokesperson Julie Frisoni said.
At a Saturday morning meeting, Goldman said a lot could be settled if the city would revise its Airport Layout Plan, which covers fences, buildings and designation of use. He said in some cases, the FAA may release the land to allow non-aeronautical use; for instance, a car rental business. The entire north end of the airport could be designated multi-use hangars, he said.
In 1995-96, hangar owner Jesse Bootman said he and another individual helped the city come up with a leasing plan that allowed the north hangars to be built (with private funds).
Goldman said, ”It was promoted to be used like we use it, to do what we wanted to do.”
GAPA member Robert Stratton said, “They approved it.”
Roy Bryan, who owns eight hangars he rents to pilots, said he collects rental tax, reports it to the city and state and has told tenants to follow basic safety rules. Every year, he said, his fire extinguishers are recertified.
“I don’t prohibit antique cars or boats,” Bryan said. “They must have a plane or be building one. Basically, we want to be left alone and operate in a safe manner.”
A tour of the hangars at the airport revealed virtually no activity on a Saturday morning. There were four planes in the shaded tie-down area, and no open doors at the south hangar buildings. About the same number of hangar doors were open at the north hangar buildings. North hangar owners pay $600 per year per hangar for the ground lease with the city.
Goldman said there may be just a few, maybe 25 to 30 percent of north hangar owners willing to stand up to the city, but “25 to 40 of us will write a check to go to court.
“Somebody’s got to stand up,” he said. “Possessory interest brings in constitutional issues.”
Goldman pointed to other airports around the country, some promoting the multi-use of hangar spaces, which are approved by their city councils and airport management. The same could occur here without jeopardizing grant assurances,
Goldman and other members of GAPA said they would be willing to sit down again with Mehta, Fix and other city officials and FAA to iron out this problem once and for all.
“It’s been going on now for two years, and it’s time to put an end to the hard feelings and mistrust,” Goldman said.