Oct. 13, 2021

Building a rapport with airport officials and the surrounding community helps create a more favorable environment for airport-based businesses and other stakeholders, according to panelists who offered advice for how to develop such relationships during an education session at the 2021 NBAA Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (NBAA-BACE).

Jol Silversmith, an attorney with KMA Zuckert and outside airport counsel for NBAA, said that anti-airport narratives created by local residents and politicians continue to threaten airports with restrictions or closure, including Santa Monica Airport (SMO), East Hampton Airport (HTO) and Reid-Hillview County Airport (RHV).

“Having regular channels of communication with politicians and neighbors is quite important to try to prevent these ideas from percolating and then suddenly becoming a local proposal to close the airport,” he said.

Such engagement also eases matters when it comes time for tenants to build or improve on-airport facilities, said Mitch Hooper, planning department manager for engineering consultants Mead & Hunt. That can be particularly important when navigating what can be a challenging regulatory process.

“The FAA’s policy toward [airport] infrastructure has changed,” he said. “Some of the rules that used to govern new facilities, such as a new runway, are now being applied to runways that airports already have. The FAA has been using this when it comes time to invest money [and] is looking very closely at modifications to design standards.” Such matters must be resolved before money is spent, Hooper emphasized.

Airport officials also appreciate tenants that establish a dialogue early and can reduce headaches when it comes time to renegotiate leases or expand existing hangars and facilities.

“Meet one-on-one [with airport officials] at least every year,” said Stephen Clark, commercial development manager for Gerald F. Ford International Airport Authority (GRR). “That doesn’t seem like a lot, but one year at most airports in the United States is a long time. And, as we’re coming through the pandemic, airports are starting to be more entrepreneurial. They’re starting to kick off the old planning and [getting] to work.”

Clark also recommended airport tenants attend monthly advisory board meetings to become familiar with upcoming development or changes to the airport master plan. “And, if you’re an existing leaseholder, you have a homework assignment: check when your lease expires,” he said.

“Even if it’s within five-10 years, start planning now for when it comes time to renegotiate.”

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