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Lantana airport boss: Continued Trump visits could ‘kill this airport’


The total in estimated lost commerce from President Donald Trump’s first weekend visit to Palm Beach is up to nearly a quarter million dollars, according to a county report.

Tops on the list: $217,000 in lost gross revenue by a “fixed base operator” at Palm Beach International Airport.

On top of that, small plane traffic at PBIA dropped by 30 to 40 percent during the weekend because of harsh flight restrictions, says the report, sent to Palm Beach County commissioners Tuesday evening.

The Lantana airport Monday had already reported losing $30,000 this past weekend.

With Trump now planning to come right back this weekend for talks with the prime minister of Japan, the head of the operation at Lantana — which has been listed as the 10th busiest “general aviation” air facility in the nation — has told the county he and his tenants could lose $1 million just in the first year and that continued visits by Trump could “kill this airport.”

By edict of the U.S. Secret Service, any time the president is at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, a package of flight restrictions is in place. They effectively shut down the Lantana airport and impose strict limits at other Palm Beach County airports that include requiring small plane pilots be cleared by authorities at other airports before they fly in.

Tuesday night’s memo by Laura Beebe, the deputy director of airport business affairs for the county’s Department of Airports, stressed she was reporting only numbers provided to her by the businesses themselves.

Referring to the drop in small plane traffic at PBIA, Beebe said that “we are hopeful that the general aviation community will come to realize that the process is not overly cumbersome and resume their normal operations at PBIA during TFR (temporary flight restriction) events.”

Beebe also said the president’s visit had no significant impact on commercial air traffic.

Highlights of Beebe’s summary:

PBIA:

One of the airport’s “fixed base operators” — the memo did not say which one — reported it lost $200,000 in gross fuel sales, $15,000 in lost rental fees and another $2,000 in landing fees and other revenue. Beebe said she hadn’t heard yet from the other FBOs.

Lantana :

Stellar Aviation — the FBO and the landlord for several aviation firms at the airport — said it directly lost $7,250 in services and fuel sales.

A sightseeing business — the airport did not identify it — said it lost $6,000 when it had to cancel 19 pre-reserved tours and turn away another 12 walk-ins. And no tours meant it didn’t buy about 100 gallons of fuel from Stellar.

Palm Beach Flight Training, the airport’s largest tenant, said 14 aircraft and 19 flight instructors were idled. It told the county its lost $14,000 when it ate 2½ hours of canceled training flights and that meant it didn’t buy $3,500 in fuel from Stellar. That school has said it’s already contemplating moving out, something the airport has said will cost it about $250,000 a year in rent.

Stellar has told the county AS Services, a five-aircraft operation that’s the airport’s second largest flight school, moved out of the airport for the weekend, and that a helicopter school the airport identified in a separate memo as Rescium International helicopter flight school has given notice it will pull out for good at the end of the month. The airport has said that’s a $440,000-a-year contract.

North County:

Ten small aircraft moved from Lantana and another four from PBIA because of the flight restrictions. Fuel sales that weekend were half of normal but jet fuel was 60 percent above normal because of the jets that had repositioned.

Pahokee:

Five planes moved from Lantana and operations were generally busier.

In a separate email sent Tuesday morning to the county Department of Airports, Jonathan Miller, CEO of Lantana’s Stellar Aviation, also said five private plane owners have canceled their “tie down” parking contracts.

“We are not large businesses. We are small businesses. Even these short-term losses have a significant impact to us,” Miller said.

“Continued and repetitive TFRs will cause many more operators to flee the airport, and the long-term damages will literally kill this airport,” Miller said. “The losses can easily be forecast to exceed over $1 million in the first 12 months, given the likelihood of the future visits and TFRs. Therefore, we must find a solution that will allow LNA to operate while maintaining the security of the president.”

At a Jan. 24 workshop, Palm Beach County commissioners voted 6-0 to have county staff formally ask the federal government to soften its restrictions and to have county people in Washington lobby for assistance as well.

It also is lobbying the Secret Service to allow an escape corridor west that will allow the aviation businesses to operate over the Glades. That agency has said it’s too early to tell after that first weekend how, if at all, it might tweak its restrictions.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, whose district includes the airport, also has talked to the Secret Service but said Tuesday it doesn’t appear willing to budge much. Frankel said she understood the agency’s top priority is protecting the president, but called the impact on airport businesses “terrible.”



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