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Trump’s first visit cost us $30,000, Lantana airport firms say


The first visit by new President Donald Trump to Palm Beach County cost aviation-related businesses at Lantana Airport $30,000 this past weekend, an airport executive said.

One flight school at the airport already has ended its lease and another school that’s the airport’s biggest tenant is thinking hard about it, Jonathan Miller, CEO of Stellar Aviation, said late Monday. Stellar Aviation is the “fixed base operator,” and the landlord of sorts, for several businesses at the airport.

With Trump now planning to come right back for talks with the prime minister of Japan, “it’s not just this past weekend. The question is how many of those 3-day periods do you have?” Miller said.

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 put in place. They effectively shut down the Lantana airport, which has been listed as the 10th busiest “general aviation” air facility in the nation.

Miller Monday night had given a seat-of-his pants figure of as much as $50,000. He said Tuesday morning he crunched the actual numbers at the request of county officials and got the $30,000 figure. That’s not gross; that’s net income, Miller said.

He said he lost $6,500 in fuel sales, of which $390 would have gone to the county. And he said Palm Beach Flight Training, the largest operation at the Lantana airport, which was grounded while Trump was here this weekend, lost $11,500 in training fees.

“That’s the short term,” Miller said. “What happens again next weekend, and possibly President’s Weekend (Feb. 18-20)?”

“We did lose a lot of money,” Palm Beach Flight Training president Marian Smith said Tuesday. “It it happens consistently, we won’t be able to stay here.”

She said some of her students already are planning to switch to other flight schools.

If Palm Beach Flight Training left, Miller said, he’d lose $250,000.

He said a helicopter flight school, which he would not name, will be out by Feb. 28. He said that will cost him $440,000 a year. 

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. But, Miller said outfits such as Palm Beach Flight Training just won’t want the hassle.

“She’d rather go to Fort Lauderdale and reestablish her business there, where there’s no interference,” Miller said.

“Once these tenants start to leave…there’s no tenants coming up behind,” said Miller, who said half the rent he collects goes to the county. “There’s no flight schools coming back to Lantana if this persists.”

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, whose district includes the airport, said Tuesday she met last week with the Secret Service and got the sense that “there is no accommodation for the flight schools anywhere in the 30-mile radius. It’s basically a lot of amateurs and people learning to fly, going up and down, takeoff and landing. And the Lantana airport is just too close to Mar-a-Lago for the Secret Service to be able to protect the president the way they want.”

Like Miller, Frankel is worried about Trump making Mar-a-Lago a habit. She said other presidents, most recently Barack Obama in Hawaii, did perhaps two or three visits a year, and “if he (Trump) was going twice a year, I was going to say, ‘everyone can take a deep breath.’ If it’s twice a month, it’s a different story.”

She called the impact on airport businesses “terrible” but said that the Secret Service has tried to be reasonable and that its priority “is to keep the president safe. And there’s a lot of mischief that can be done with a plane, with the president a few miles away.”

“This is new territory for us,” County Administrator Verdenia Baker said Tuesday. “We’ve haven’t had a president have a second home here. At least since Kennedy. And I was a little girl then.” She said she’s been in talks with the Secret Service, which are continuing.

County Commissioner David Kerner, whose district includes the airport, said the county is looking into trying to find financial relief for the affected businesses. And, he said, it seems like this is going to turn into a constant issue which will absolutely be devastating tor the business owners and general aviation pilots at the airport.

Kerner, a Democrat, acknowledged the president has a lot on his plate. But he said he’d love to get Trump’s ear to educate him on the impacts of his visits to Lantana

“I’d be honored to sit down and speak with him,” Kerner said. “Just to put it on his radar.”

County Airports chief Bruce Pelly said late Monday he’s had no reports that any aircraft violated the concentric 1-mile, 10-mile and 30-mile restriction zones around what Trump has called his “winter White House.”

With Trump having just left, Secret Service spokesman Shawn Holtzclaw said Tuesday, “it’s too early to even discuss” tweaking restrictions. But, he said, “that will have to start with the White House.”

The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 



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