Just as soon as an ad hoc steering committee was formed and began meeting to discuss potential changes to the Leesburg Airport Commission, the committee may soon be wrapping up its work.
The committee, led by chair Vice Mayor Marty Martinez and including current members of the commission, representatives from airport businesses and lease holders, and town staff, met for the first time virtually Feb. 24, and again this past Wednesday. Martinez has stated his desire to have the committee vote on a formal recommendation to the Town Council at its March 10 meeting.
Since its first meeting, the committee has received briefings from the FAA, as well as a history lesson on how Leesburg Executive Airport came to be, along with the work performed by its Airport Commission over the years. Committee members have also shared their thoughts on if and how they would like to see the commission change.
The creation of the steering committee was prompted by a January proposal by Mayor Kelly Burk to set in motion several Town Code changes to the commission’s membership makeup, mission, oversight and responsibilities. Burk has emphasized her desire to see the commission and the airport in general have more of an economic development focus, and the airport’s current and future fixed-based operators—ProJet Aviation and SK Aviation, respectively—have expressed a desire to have representation on the commission, even in an ex officio manner.
This Wednesday, Martinez asked committee members to share their thoughts on whether they would like to see any changes to the commission’s structure.
Current Commissioner Dan Duenkel pointed out that, of the commission’s current seven members, four are business owners. He also noted the recent creation of an airport business owners subcommittee, which will have representation from each of the airport’s businesses, including its FBOs and flight schools, as a way to have more of a voice at the commission. Commissioner Sybille Miller has offered to be a liaison to the subcommittee.
Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin and Tom Saxon, a pilot tenant at the airport, also said a recent review of airport commissions throughout the state of Virginia brought to light that there are no FBO representatives on any of the commissions, and very few business owners.
“Most of the airport commissions are primarily made up of pilots. The larger airports when you get into [airport] authorities have a lot of aviation experts on staff,” Boykin said.
Martinez suggested the creation of an airport business association, which would have a representative with voting powers on the commission. That representative to the commission would be appointed by association members.
Most who shared their opinions Wednesday, however, felt that large-scale changes to the commission were not needed.
“It’s a well oiled machine,” Saxon said of the commission. “I do think the 11 businesses need to be represented, need to have a voice [on the commission]. I feel strongly that they do.
“If you want to call it a business operators subcommittee, whatever you call it, they need a voice. Whether it’s a voting voice or not I’m not sure. I tend to believe they don’t need a voting voice.”
Ryan Zerbe, a pilot with Open Air flight school, cautioned against major changes, pointing to current upheaval at Santa Monica Airport, which is slated for closure within the next decade. He did, however, say more inclusivity would be nice.
“We all have the opportunity to go and sit at meetings, but I would love to be included in the conversation in the future,” he said.
Scott Kuhn, president and CEO of forthcoming FBO SK Aviation, pitched a more forward-looking commission, while praising the current one.
“The existing commission has done a great job at growing the airport to what it is today,” he said. “We are more concerned with, what does the airport look like 10 years from now? All of the businesses at the airport have the ability to contact council members or the Airport Commission. I don’t see how [the FBOs] having a non-voting role on the commission would really change anything.”
The next steering committee meeting is set for 5 p.m. March 10, again in a virtual format.