Private pilots who use the local regional airport reacted negatively after the Port of Astoria decided to enforce it's policy of charging a $10 fee for general aviation pilots to land a plane there. The policy has been on the books for years but generally was not enforced as long as pilots bought fuel when they made a stop here.
The fee is difficult to enforce since the airport is not staffed 24/7. Interim Port CEO Michael Weston told his Port Commissioners during the Tuesday night meeting that the protest began shortly after a man bringing his plane to Astoria hoping to sell it was charged the landing fee when he didn't wish to purchase fuel. The unidentified man began posting his experience on a popular website and urged other private pilots to boycott the Astoria Warrenton Regional Airport. This resulted in a firestorm of protests. Charging a fee to land a plane is unusual at most small airports and it was pointed out that by continuing to charge the fee would most likely impact fuel sales at the airport if pilots observe a boycott. The airport advisory committe strongly recommended that no land fees be charged. The landing fee does not apply to military aircraft so it does not affect Coast Guard operations, or that of the National Guard. After some discussion the Port Commission instructed Weston to stop charging the fee but stopped short of repealing the ordinance establishing the fee.
In other action Tuesday night:
The Port Commission directed staff to draw up a policy to make the ad hoc Airport Advisory and Marina Advisory committees formal standing committees of the Port after discovering that neither body had been established formally. The new policy would set up the appointment process, qualifications, application process and length of term. While discussing committee assignments, Commissioner Stephen Fulton said he wanted a review of the membership of the Port Budget Committee after he said he attended the last meeting and only two members attended. Commissioner Hunsinger agreed, taking the matter a step further by saying he suspects that there are members of that committee with potential conflicts of interest though he refused to specify further.
The commission decided to offer Astoria Auto Rental, doing business as Astoria Hertz, a month to month lease on space they use at the Astoria Warrenton Regional Airport pending the outcome of establishing a fixed base operator for the airport. At a previous meeting representatives of Brim Aviation had proposed taking over fixed base operations. After discussion the commissioners decided that it would be appropriate to issue a request for proposals before acting on Brims offer to take over the operation of the airport. The fixed base operator is responsable for providing services to airport users including fuel sales, rental cars, courtesy cars, and concessions along with plane service and repairs. At present the airport is operating without a fixed base operator and day to day operations are being handled under CEO Weston. The Commission was provided an RFP outline at last night's meeting.
Weston provided the commissioners with information regarding the Pier One Building where the Port staff has relocated their office. There was a question raised by the commissioners previously about possibly selling the building. Weston provided a breakdown on the building purchase. In the his report he states that since the Port assumed ownership in July of 2010 leased space there has doubled. He points out that with the addition of a new lease by the General Services Administration for a new U.S. Customs and Border protection office the Port is approaching the break even point. The addition of the new lease puts the building at 60% occupancy, not counting the spaces the port uses, which means it will be possible to renegotiate the loan on the building for a more favorable interest rate. The port currently pays 7%. Commissioner Gertula pointed out that it would be perfectly legal for the Port to essentially pay itself rent by establishing a $5000.00 monthly lease for the Port and Marina offices that take space in the building which would put the occupancy over the threshold for a refinance.