Hundreds of supporters wanting to save Braden Airpark from a potential sale plan to gather this weekend for what they fear could be the last community event at the Forks Township airport.
The all-day fly-in event Sunday hosted by the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 70 is free and open to the public, with a donation asked for parking. It features live music, car displays with an estimated 75 vehicles and a flying demonstration for radio-controlled model aircraft.
General aviation airplanes will be flying in and out all day.
Breakfast, lunch and an evening pig roast and clambake will be available for purchase.
A petition that already has gathered hundreds of signatures will be circling once again asking the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority to remove Braden Airpark on Sullivan Trail from the chopping block.
“We want a good turnout to show the (authority) board of governors what a community asset Braden is and what it means to them,” said attorney Bob Brown, also a pilot with the “Save Braden” campaign. “We want them to help us rally to keep it open. There’s nothing better than airplanes, cars and food — and that’s what we have.”
The authority in July began the process to sell Braden Airpark to help satisfy a $16 million debt to developers. To date, developer J.G. Petrucci Co. Inc. and Braden Airpark LLC, a pilots group, have put in bids to buy the land. Based on an appraisal, officials say the airpark is worth at least $3 million.
Ed Lozano, a principal with the pilots group, confirmed the group’s bid is higher than the $1.8 million initially offered and rejected by the airport authority, but has declined to provide the exact amount.
“There’s only one airport in all of Northampton County,” Lozano said. “We’d like to preserve this jewel for generations of future pilots and enthusiasts to come.”
Bob Kutzler, a pilot with the “Save Braden” campaign, said this week it would be short-sighted of the authority to want to close the airport, noting in the past it supplied jobs to more than 20 people.
“We are going ahead with activities as usual, hoping for the best,” he said.
Forks Township Supervisor Erik Chuss, also a pilot, remains optimistic.
“Personally, I don’t feel this is the final fly-in and that the airport will stay open one way or another,” he said. “But there is always the possibility that it could close and that this will be the last one.”
Airport authority Executive Director Charles R. Everett Jr. said the board plans to meet on Sept. 23 to discuss the two offers. An agenda has not been finalized, and it’s unclear if the board plans to vote, he said; the board set a deadline to vote by Oct. 31 on Braden’s fate.
Everett said the board will be looking at these scenarios: leasing the airport to a fixed base operator; closing the airport; splitting the property, such as selling a portion of land for non-aviation use while maintaining the airport; or selling the land outright.
Other options are transferring the airport to another public entity or increasing general aviation rates and charges at the authority’s two other airports — Lehigh Valley International and Queen City — to cover the operating deficit and debt service at Braden.
The authority still plans to sell properties to pay off the debt by 2015, Everett said.
Meanwhile, the pilots group already is discussing improvements to the airpark in hopes of the authority agreeing to its offer.
Pilots with Braden Airpark LLC attended Thursday night’s supervisors work session to discuss plans. Proposals include possibly extending the runway by paving 300 to 350 feet of overrun on the south end.
“That would be more attractive to the airplane pilots,” Brown said.
IF YOU GO
The Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 70 Fly-In is scheduled 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Uhler Road entrance at Braden Airpark in Forks Township. For more information, contact Ron Whiteside at firstname.lastname@example.org or 908-319-1607 or Ed Deacon at email@example.com or 484-357-6742.
BRADEN AIRPARK TIMELINE
1937: Braden Airpark is founded, owned and operated by Ed Braden. At one time, it was the largest Piper Aircraft dealer nationally and trained pilots during World War II.
1990: Paul Braden took over operations.
1995: Moyer Aviation assumed operations and directly employed 25 people.
1999: The Federal Aviation Administration commissioned a study reviewing potential changes to Braden Airpark, which included extending and realigning the existing runway.
2000: Braden Airpark is sold to the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority for $2.4 million.
May 2013: Moyer Aviation leaves Braden Airpark and Lehigh Valley International Airport staff advise authority to sell the Forks Township facility.
July 2013: A private group of pilots initially begins exploring buying and maintaining the airport.
July 2014: The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority begins the formal process that could lead to a sale of Braden Airpark.
August 2014: Developer J.G. Petrucci Co. Inc. and the pilots group, now known as Braden Airpark LLC, put in bids for the property.
Oct. 31, 2014: The deadline when The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority is expected to make a decision on the fate of the airport.