Airport Commission To Grow Following Council Vote

The Leesburg Town Council has given the green light to changes proposed by an ad hoc committee that paves the way for a new voting position on the town’s Airport Commission, and the formation of an airport business association.

Tuesday night’s vote on changes to the Town Code and airport rules and regulations largely avoided some of the significant changes proposed by Mayor Kelly Burk at the council’s first meeting of the year in January. The majority of her changes focused on the membership makeup for the seven-member commission, with each commissioner now recommended for appointment by a council member, but voted on by the entire council, along with a non-voting member appointed by the Board of Supervisors. 

Burk had asked the council to consider expanding the membership of the commission to four licensed pilots who do not have any association with either of the airport’s flight schools or fixed-base operators; one resident with no business connection to the airport, and who lives in one of its surrounding neighborhoods; two individuals, either town residents or town business owners, with experience in commercial business operations that are also unaffiliated with the airport; one non-voting representative from each of the two fixed-base operators; non-voting members from each of the airport’s flight schools; and the Board of Supervisors representative. 

Burk had also proposed changing the commission’s powers and duties to one that reports directly to the Town Council, much in the same way the town’s other commissions do. Currently, the commission’s powers are a bit stronger, with responsibility for reviewing leases, oversight of airport rules and regulations, preparing and maintaining a capital improvement plan for the airport, and working directly with state and federal aviation authorities, among other charges.

Burk justified her proposed changes with wanting the municipal airport to take more of a business-first, economic development approach to running one of the commonwealth’s busiest general aviation airports. 

Following Burk’s proposal, there were several heated Airport Commission meetings, with some of its members upset with the mayor for both the nature of her proposal, and for recommending the changes without any commissioner input. The council agreed to a commission suggestion to constitute an ad hoc committee, which included representatives from airport businesses and its two fixed-base operators, along with representation from the commission and Town Council. The charge of the committee was to study the mission, vision and responsibilities of the commission, and recommend changes to the council. Chaired by Vice Mayor Marty Martinez, the ad hoc committee ultimately recommended against Burk’s suggestion to include fixed-base operators, non-airport businesses, and nearby residents on the commission, but recommended the formation of an airport business association with representation from all airport-based businesses, including the fixed-base operators and flight schools.

Prior to that recommendation, the commission had put the wheels in motion for an airport business operators subcommittee, with a direct line of communication to the commission, and that also would have representation from all of the airport’s businesses. It would appear the formation of an airport business association could negate the need for the subcommittee, but that remained to be seen this week. 

Perhaps the biggest change will be that the airport business association will have a designated voting member on the Airport Commission. The committee also recommended, and Tuesday’s vote permitted, that a member of the Economic Development Commission be appointed to the commission as a non-voting member.

Town Attorney Christopher Spera and Airport Director Scott Coffman also proposed several changes to the Town Code section governing the airport, and the airport’s rules and regulations, to clean up some language, and also to underscore that the commission should be operating in an advisory, rather than adjudicatory, capacity. That change was recommended by both Burk and the ad hoc committee. 

The vote to endorse the changes was approved via a 6-0-1 vote, with Councilwoman Suzanne Fox absent.

Commission Chairman Dennis Boykin expressed gratitude following the vote. 

“We are looking forward to working with the businesses at the airport as they form their association that they brought to the ad hoc committee. We’re also thankful for Vice Mayor Marty Martinez’ s leadership as we worked through this process,” he said.

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