Monday, May 10, 2004

Council inclined to delay vote on Lunken Airport ban

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

EAST END - It isn't certain Cincinnati City Council will vote this week as planned on a proposal to ban scheduled passenger commercial service at the city-owned Lunken Airport.

That's because a new Federal Aviation Administration certification for Lunken may have thrown the airport's future up in the air, some city leaders say.

Councilman John Cranley is calling for the ban in conjunction with a new federal certification for the airport that will prohibit scheduled passenger service. The service is permitted at Lunken, but no one provides it. Two companies have applied for permits to operate separate services, each on planes with 30 seats and less, to Chicago.

In interviews, six council members said they aren't sure how they will vote and some are calling for more time.

Specifically, several council members said they need more information on how the new certification for Lunken may affect its federal funding and safety requirements.

Councilman David Crowley, who chairs the community development committee that oversees Lunken, wants FAA officials to come to Cincinnati to explain the situation, something that could take a few weeks to arrange.

"My concern is that all members of council know the implications of what we are voting on," Crowley said.

Making the decision now, he added, "doesn't allow council to really get a handle on this information, digest it and make a sound decision."

Crowley also wants the Lunken Airport Oversight Advisory Board to weigh in at the committee's May 17 meeting.

Starting in June, the FAA is going to change future certifications for many of the nation's airports. The changes take effect in 2005.

The city recently learned that Lunken's new certification, which bans scheduled commercial service, might conflict with previous FAA grant assurances. When Lunken takes grant money from the FAA, there are several commitments, and one is to provide reasonable access to the airport for operators.

So, Lunken may be required to permit scheduled passenger service because of grants the airport already has accepted under its existing certification, explained Eileen Enabnit, director of the city Department of Transportation and Engineering.

The conflict of rules is an issue for other airports, she says, and the FAA is trying to resolve the problem.

Further clouding Lunken's future is the suspension of the airport manager, Dan Dickten.He was put on paid leave after it was disclosed that he was seeking scheduled passenger service at Lunken against a previous council directive. The tone of some of e-mails came into question. Dickten has apologized.

Some council members question whether Dickten was providing unbiased technical information about Lunken.

"There has to be integrity to this process so the citizens don't feel they are being blind-sided by the city," Councilman Christopher Smitherman said.

Added Vice Mayor Alicia Reece: "I was shocked at what the e-mails said but I was even more concerned with, have we been presented all the information?"

Only Laketa Cole and Cranley said late last week without reservations they plan to vote Wednesday for Cranley's ban proposal.

Cranley says he thinks the problem with the FAA certification will take months, possibly years, to resolve.

Board meets Monday

• The Lunken Airport Oversight Advisory Board meets 4:30 p.m. today in the airport's main terminal, 262 Wilmer Ave.

• The board is expected to vote to extend Lunken's main runway by 900 feet and to raise the weight limits for planes to 100,000 pounds.

• The body also will discuss noise mitigation and whether there should be scheduled passenger commercial service at Lunken.

•  The board will present its recommendations May 17 to City Council's Community Development Committee.



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