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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

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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Image2 Isbell Construction

Glendale has had more than one airport in its recent past. According to Ron Chavez’ book “The Valley Airports of the Past,” this airfield “began as the Isbell Construction Company Airfield, a privately-owned airstrip built in 1955 at 80th & Olive Avenues. The airport was used as an aerial crop seeding & spraying operation, had a dirt strip that measured 2,400′, and ran in a north/south direction (17/35) between Grand & Olive Avenues.”He goes on to say “After the closure of Paradise & Phoenix Airhaven Airports, the Isbell Construction Company Airfield became available for general public use and general aviation aircraft began using the airport in 1966.” At the same time its name was changed to Glendale Airhaven Airport.  But it was too small and buried within a corner of a block near Grand Avenue and Olive. Old abandoned urban area airfields often suffered the same fate and were plowed up, torn down and covered with homes and buildings but remnants of this airfield field remain. As of the late 1980’s one could still see the runway and hanger.

In the early 1980’s the city decided to build a new airport and close Glendale Airhaven. A citizen’s group was formed to decide on a location for a new airport to be known as the Glendale Municipal Airport. One of the members of this citizens’ group was – any guesses? – Why, former Mayor Elaine Scruggs. There were two final options for its location. One site was in undeveloped north Glendale and the other was its present location.  Urban legend has it that Scruggs pushed hard for its current location and prevailed despite the location’s many flaws.

photo 3By 1987 the 477 acre Glendale Municipal Airport opened and was ready for business. Its new single runway eventually grew to 7,150 feet and could accommodate small jets. Hangers were built on the south and north sides of the main terminal building. It became the new location of the Thunderbird Balloon Race. But there was trouble in this new, city paradise. The south hangers languished and were never even remotely fully occupied. The owner declared bankruptcy and the hangers were auctioned off. The city attempted to acquire them but its bid was rejected as too low and they were acquired by a private party. To this day while they are available for lease but they remain almost entirely vacant. The reasons are complicated.  By the mid-90’s the city discontinued hosting the balloon race as the number of spectators it drew overwhelmed airport facilities.

For the next dozen years the airport continued its slow but steady growth. The city hosted the Super Bowl. That event showed what its future held as many corporate jets landed there because of its close proximity to the University of Phoenix Stadium. Top name concert performers and their entourages would also use the airport because it was so conveniently close to their performance venue, Jobing.com Arena.

Then two major events occurred. The national economy suffered a deep recession and the nation’s climb out of it has been slow and painful; and the owner of the south hangers sued the city and lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He contended that the city allowed the owners of the north hangers more liberal use of their hangers that that with which he was allowed. He prevailed and won a substantial judgment and the FAA now had Glendale’s airport on its radar screen and mandated major changes.

In the next blog we’ll look at the airport today…its challenges and its potential.