The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the Laramie Regional Airport based on a number of complaints accusing the facility of violating its federal grant obligations.
In a letter addressed to Laramie Airport Director Amy Terrell, the FAA alerted Terrell that it is investigating seven complaints made against the airport for noncompliance to federal obligations and asks for a response from the airport.
“The complainant has accurately identified a potential violation of grant assurances, and have provided their version of the issue to support the claim of noncompliance,” Peter Doyle, regional airport compliance program manager for the FAA, wrote in his Aug. 16 letter.
The FAA letter provides notice that an investigation has begun and does not confirm that any of the allegations made against the airport are true. That determination will come when the investigation is complete. The airport has until Sept. 30 to respond to the allegations.
In total, Laramie Airport Users Association Vice President Thomas Bienz filed 15 complaints on behalf of his organization against the airport in June. LAUA explained why it filed the FAA complaint in a July 10 letter to airport leadership.
"While we have been reluctant to do so, your collective refusal to engage has forced us to seek intervention by the Federal Aviation Administration via the complaint processes available under what is referred to as a ‘Part 13’ action,” the letter says.
A Part 13 investigation is an informal mechanism the FAA can take for dispute resolution between airports and users.
Chris MacGlover, a member of LAUA, told Cowboy State Daily he filed another complaint with the FAA on the airport last week related to flight school issues. He has not yet received a response to this complaint.
Airport attorney Jodi Shea said the airport board is evaluating the FAA’s request to respond to the allegations. She pointed out that the FAA has declined to look into more than half the allegations made.
“The remaining allegations contain patently false statements and are misleading,” she said.
Shea said the board is eager to work with the FAA to resolve the concerns brought up in the Part 13 complaint.
In the complaints to the FAA, a laundry list of complaints is outlined:
Bienz accuses the airport of failing to acknowledge past improvements he made to his private hangar area. He said the airport is now refusing he and his employees access to the infrastructure by refusing to include the improvements he made in his lease, which he said violates FAA policy on hangar construction.
Terrell and the airport board allegedly required Bienz’s business, Premier Bone and Joint Centers (PBJC), to agree to a lease agreement based on a requirement he must buy 2,000 gallons of jet fuel per month from the airport to keep four jets in his hangar, as the airport views him to be a commercial operator. Failure to buy the fuel would result in PBJC being charged a daily $100 facility fee for each of his planes flying in and out of the airport. Bienz said this is an example of economic discrimination and inconsistent application of charges as other hangar owners with the same size jets do not have to pay these fees.
Bienz alleges that an auto detailing company was evicted from the airport immediately after its owner complained to the Wyoming Aeronautics Commission about Terrell and also threatened to file an official complaint on Terrell to her airport board. Bienz claims this is economic discrimination and that Terrell also had provided illegal exclusive rights to the detailing company in past dealings.
Bienz says a commercial helicopter operator that vacated his hangar at the airport after rent was increased by 400% wrote a negative review about the way Terrell handled the situation online and wrote to the city and airport board about the issue. The next time he tried landing at the airport, the operator said he was told by Terrell that he wasn’t welcome at the airport, could not buy space in one of its public hangars, buy fuel, or enter certain facilities. After he contacted the FAA about the matter, the operator said Terrell rescinded the restrictions. Bienz believes this is another example of economic discrimination.
Bienz said the airport is failing to perform operations and maintenance as required by the FAA. He cited an event from last November where he took off from the airport after being told by a staff member the airport was closed. It turned out the airport was not officially closed as Bienz had asserted and the FAA determined he committed no violations, but he was still suspended by the airport for 30 days.
Aviator Chris MacGlover said his plane was damaged when airport employees moved it out of a hangar without notifying him and failed to tie it down to protect it from wind. It blew into another plane, causing what he estimates to be between $15,000 and $20,000 worth of damage. MacGlover said he was eventually pressured into signing a settlement agreement with the airport based on false information that was presented to him. After this incident, he says the airport discriminated against him in his requests to buy and sublease hangars.
Bienz also claims the airport board has not authorized a sponsor or recognized all conditions and assurances of federal grants.
Refusals To Meet
One of the biggest points of contention between LAUA and the airport and its board is that they refuse input from LAUA about new rules it is considering for the airport. Shea continued their prior position in her email last week, saying the board will not meet with LAUA until the FAA investigation is complete.
In a Monday press release, LAUA says the opening of the FAA investigation canceled “tenuous” plans the airport had to meet with the group.
In a response to Shea, LAUA President Ian Adams said Shea’s refusal to meet “is simply a continuation of a well demonstrated pattern of obfuscation and lack of accountability — a pattern that is simply not acceptable in the management of a public facility.”
In a May letter to airport leadership, Adams said the lack of response to his group’s attempts at improving their relationship with the airport is a result of “legal advice barring communication with us based on a perception of the possibility of litigation.”
Adams said his group has no desire to bring legal action against the airport, but members of LAUA have brought up the threat of litigation to try and encourage cooperation from airport leadership in helping develop minimum standards at the airport.
Laramie City Council member Micah Richardson told Adams in an email reviewed by Cowboy State Daily that he was advised to not meet with members of LAUA because the topic of litigation had previously been brought up by the pilots group.
LAUA finished its Monday press release with a message to Terrell, the airport and local elected officials in Albany County.
“You have deliberately ignored communications and rejected reasonable offers to meet and work together,” the press release reads. “By making it apparent that you were unwilling to listen to your constituents and customers, you forced our hand.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.