Officials receive advice on luring corporate jets to Carroll airport

Lighting and heating needed at new hangars

March 01, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

To bolster business at the county's airport outside Westminster, a panel of experts recommended yesterday that the commissioners customize Carroll's corporate hangars and have the airport manager on site full time.

"If you have a $38 million airplane, you want to find a place that has everything - a hangar that's heated, secure, has lights," said Jon Buck of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association. "The term we use is turnkey. It means everything is ready to go and doesn't need anything else."

Buck was among the experts Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier and the county's economic development team heard from during a two-hour meeting yesterday. The others were Carolyn Motz, airport manager at Hagerstown Regional Airport; Greg Larsen, business developer at Hagerstown; and Bruce Mundie of the Maryland Aviation Administration

"We have a nice airport, but we need to get it going," Dell told the panel at the opening of the meeting. "We'll depend on you all to make recommendations to help us get things off the ground."

The county has made several improvements - including seven corporate hangars - to Carroll County Regional Airport along Route 97 north of Westminster in hopes of making it a favored stop for pilots flying over mid-Atlantic states.

Their hopes, however, have largely not been realized. The airport is making a small profit, but the corporate hangars were mired in a legal battle for more than a year, and only two have been leased. None of them is finished.

"I'm very optimistic about what can be done here," Motz said. "You've got a great facility, and it's closer to Baltimore than we are. We have a waiting list in Hagerstown right now. We've got land, but we don't have the hangars."

Hagerstown is home to eight corporate hangars, all of them leased. According to Mundie, no hangars are available anywhere in the state.

"I don't think you're going to have a marketing problem," Mundie said. "If you build hangars, there will be a waiting list."

Baltimore-Washington International Airport is encouraging corporate clients to lease hangar space at regional airports, such as Carroll's.

The county is working to complete the hangars. Today, the buildings have no heat, no bathrooms, minimal electrical outlets and unfinished office spaces. The work is expected to be finished by April 1.

The commissioners will decide what other amenities to provide. Mundie suggested, at a minimum, that the hangars be heated and have adequate lighting. He recommended the floors be painted white to provide a reflective surface that will help maintenance crews as they work on the aircraft.

Motz also suggested that Steve Brown, the county's airport manager, work full time to manage the day-to-day operation of the hangars. He now works from an office at the County Office Building in Westminster and visits the airport at least once a day.

In addition to hiring Hangar Corp. of America two years ago to build the seven hangars, the county has added a longer runway and a new fuel station. Proponents hoped the improvements would make the airport lucrative, but litigation stalled the $3.3 million hangar project.

The legal trouble began in October 1999, when the commissioners refused to make a final payment of $164,000 to Hangar Corp., claiming the work was incomplete. Hangar Corp. officials dispute that.

The county filed suit against the Pennsylvania company in Carroll County District Court in March last year, seeking possession of the hangar project, termination of the contract and $153,036 in lost rent and late fees.

Hangar Corp. had the case moved to federal court in Baltimore and filed a counterclaim seeking $6.3 million in damages and lost profits. The matter went to mediation in September before U.S. District Magistrate William Connelly in Greenbelt. As part of the settlement agreement reached in December, the lawsuits were dropped and Carroll County won control of the hangars.

In October, Dell and Frazier visited the municipal airport in Leesburg, Va., to learn how to successfully manage corporate hangars.

"I don't think we can jump in and be a Leesburg or a Hagerstown," said Gary Horst, director of Enterprise and Recreation Services, the county department responsible for running the airport. "The idea now is to get off first base and get started, so that ultimately, the corporate hangars and the airport in general can be a better selling point for the county."

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