There is a little known back story that has been taking place at the Glendale airport for many years. It deals with this cast of characters: the City of Glendale; the Glendale Airport Pilots Association comprised of hangar owners and renters (GAPA); and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Historically FAA policy required that airport hangars be used exclusively for the storage of aircraft/aeronautical items. Many airport hangars across the country have been built and by far, the majority, are owned and maintained by municipalities. That is not the case in Glendale. For a myriad of reasons Glendale chose to allow the construction of private (not municipally owned) hangars. I believe all of the hangars at Glendale’s airport are privately owned. It presents a unique and a decidedly different situation from 90% of all airport hangars across the country.

For years the privately owned hangar owners and the city coexisted. Glendale would perform occasional hangar inspections aware that non-aeronautical items were stored in these private hangars. All of this kumbaya changed in 2009 when a lawsuit for discrimination was filed by the owner of the south hangars, Valley Aviation Services (VAS). VAS contended that the city’s enforcement of FAA policy that only aeronautical items be stored in their hangars when the north owners’ hangars were not under the same enforcement amounted to discrimination. Several years later VAS won the suit and was awarded damages of $1.7 million. The city was also required to pay attorneys’ fees. By the time all was said and done the city tab was closer to $2.3 million.

The VAS judgment caused the city to become concerned about the FAA policy with regard to hangar storage of non-aeronautical items. It believed that the result of the lawsuit put the airport on the FAA’s radar screen and could result in not only the loss of federal funding for future airport improvements but could lead to an FAA demand to repay grants already allocated and spent as a result of its history of non-compliance.

In 2011 the city held a meeting with all hangar owners and stated that it would begin to enforce the FAA’s policy with regard to the storage of non-aeronautical items and would be implemented immediately. The city then inspected every hangar and advised all hangar owners of issues of non-compliance. However, the problem was that these were privately owned hangars and not municipally owned hangars and the city historically had never enforced this FAA policy. GAPA believed that after a long history of non-enforcement of this policy, the city had no legal standing to abruptly begin its regime of  enforcement.

In 2013-14 GAPA hired legal representation for action in the Glendale court system and subsequently filed a lawsuit in Superior Court. During this period the FAA sent out a “Request for Comments” to a proposed Policy Change to their Federal Register Document that deals with Hangar Storage of Non-Aeronautical Items. This was in recognition by the FAA that it was a situation they had created at most airports across the country.

After a lengthy two year court process in 2016 the court ruled the city had failed to enforce FAA policy from 1999 to 2011. A summary judgment was awarded to GAPA requiring the city to pay its legal fees amounting to a little over $70,000. At that time the city terminated their contract with outside counsel paying them about $156,000. It appears the city paid twice as much for legal fees than GAPA did. The city bill for all legal fees, theirs and GAPA’s, totaled about $226,000; $70,000 for GAPA’s fees and $156,000 for its fees.

In 2016, the FAA made a policy change to hangar storage of non-aeronautical items saying, “A sponsor’s Grant Assurance obligations require that its aeronautical facilities be used or be available for use for aeronautical activities. If the presence of non-aeronautical items in a hangar does not interfere with these obligations, then the FAA will generally not consider the presence of those items to constitute a violation of the sponsor’s obligations.”

 “c. Provided the hangar is used primarily for aeronautical purposes, an airport sponsor may permit non-aeronautical items to be stored in hangars provided the items do not interfere with the aeronautical use of the hangar.”

One could assume the issue between GAPA and the city is now resolved. Not so. The city has hired yet another outside counsel, the law firm of Mandel & Young to fight GAPA’s judgment of payment of legal fees of $70,000 and to appeal GAPA’s favorable court ruling. These two issues were just filed by the city in court in July of 2016. It doesn’t appear to be very logical. The previous outside council cost the city approximately $150,000 and one could assume that the bill for this new outside council will be about the same. Why would the city pay $150,000 to get out of paying $70,000?

Apparently the city does not know when to cry “uncle.” It has cost taxpayers about a quarter of a million dollars to have a judge affirm GAPA’s position. Will the city spend another quarter of a million dollars to try to reverse the judge’s decision and to renege on paying GAPA’s legal fees? It doesn’t appear to be a very wise investment. Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

© Joyce Clark, 2016          


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