March 15, 2012
LEBANON, N.H. – Taxpayers are wondering if the Lebanon Municipal Airport is a boost to the economy, or just a bust; draining the city’s finances. To clear up the picture, airport leaders have called an “airport summit” for Tuesday, March 20.
One group who will be keeping an eye on that meeting is local pilots, who are facing another pressing issue: possible user fees from the federal government.
Lebanon’s selling point: a traveler can fly from New Hampshire to Boston in under an hour and pick up a connecting flight.
Cape Air offers six-daily flights out of the airport: four to Boston and two to White Plains, New York.
“You have one stop service from Lebanon to all across the world,” said airport manager Rick Dyment. “From Boston you have 72 domestic, 22 international flights to non-stop destinations. In April, they’ll be one-stop service from right here in the Upper Valley to Narita, Japan.”
Thursday was quiet at the airport, but officials said there’s plenty of revenue coming in to land.
“I think a lot of people don’t see the impact outside of commercial air service,” said Dan Kelman, a pilot living in the Upper Valley who flies out of the airport. “It’s our connection to the outside world.”
“A lot of business people use this airport to support the operations that they have in this area,” said Greg Soho, vice-president and chief financial officer of Signal Aviation, the fixed-base operator at the airport.
The airport attracts business because it’s located at the intersection of Interstate 89 and 91, and minutes from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Soho said.
Dyment said his staff is working on an expansion plan, including a new charter service and a leased-space in the terminal.
There are also plans to extend a runway, Soho said.
But with a small passenger base some residents question paying for the property.
“Over the years we’ve run a deficit as airports of our size typically do,” Dyment said, adding the airport is the only city department that charges property tax.
19,000 passengers either departed or arrived at the airport last year, Dyment said. The airport brought in $728,370 in 2011 through leased space, landing fees, and other revenue. It cost $998,510 to run last year, amounting to a deficit of $270,140.
However, the airport contributes about $150,000 to the city’s general fund, because it is one of the only departments to generate revenue.
Dyment, Kelman and Soho fear there could be less revenue if the federal government gets its way.
A proposal is on the table to require pilots to pay a user fee of up to $100, a spokesman for the Alliance for Aviation Across America, a Washington-based group advocating for pilots and the economic benefits of the aviation industry.
“A hundred dollars every single flight may make it inaccessible for them,” Kelman said, adding it would be nearly impossible for flight schools to function if they have to pay a fee every take-off or landing.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch is one of a handful of leaders who have written to President Barack Obama about the importance of local aviation facilities.
“New Hampshire’s 24 public general aviation airports serve 5,908 pilots and 2,055 general aviation aircraft, which supports thousands of jobs and has millions of dollars in economic impact,” Lynch wrote.
“General aviation aircraft and the airports they use represent a critical link to emergency services, economic opportunity and global markets,” the governor wrote.
The federal government had hoped to use the fees as a means to cut the deficit, the alliance said.
However, Kelman and Soho said if implemented, pilots may try to get around those fees by not filing flight plans posing a safety risk.
Dyment called the airport summit a workshop and he said he hopes to get input from residents and those at the airport.
The summit will be held at the Mount Lebanon School from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20.
Source: WPTZ-TV NBC 5