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Published: Friday, 2/28/2014 - Updated: 10 months ago

Ground crew firm may file federal complaint over action at airport

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An aviation-services provider may file a federal complaint after the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board amended the agency’s airport rules Thursday to specifically allow off-airport firms to provide ground-handling services for cargo flights under certain conditions.

Port officials, however, characterized the amendment to the Airport Minimum Standards as a clarification, not a change.

They also said Integrated Airline Services Inc. established its right to load and unload airplanes at Toledo Express Airport as soon as it obtained a sublease from an existing airport tenant.

Paul Toth, the port authority’s president and chief executive, said he received notice of just such a sublease 15 minutes into Thursday’s board of directors meeting. According to the notice, IAS and TOL Aviation, another aviation-services firm at Express, have agreed to a one-year sublease with yearly renewal.

“Passing this resolution is not critical” to IAS operating at Toledo Express, Mr. Toth said, but the amendment makes it clear that cargo ground handling is among services a “special aviation services operator” may perform either there or at Toledo Executive Airport — the former Metcalf Field — if it otherwise complies with the minimum standards.

“IAS has the right to operate out there today [without further approval] if they have a sublease or a license,” the port president said.

The resolution passed by a 9-3 vote. Those voting no — G. Opie Rollison, George Tucker, and airport committee chairman Jerry Chabler — had argued the board should wait at least a month to evaluate the amendment’s consequences before taking action.

“Our next step is to file a formal complaint with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. Let them be the determinant,” Jim Renda, the marketing director for Grand Aire Inc., said after the meeting.

Grand Aire representatives had argued that to maintain fair competition at the airport, any company wishing to load or unload air freight for hire should have to maintain its own facilities and full-time staff, as Grand Aire does.

Besides loading and unloading planes, Grand Aire also operates cargo charters of its own and sells fuel, aircraft maintenance, and other aviation services as a “fixed-base operator.” TOL Aviation and National Flight Services also are “fixed-base operator” businesses at Toledo Express.

IAS arrived at Toledo’s main airport in late 2011 as a contractor for DHL Express Inc., which leased half of the airport’s Cargo Building to support freight transfer to and from planes flying a Cincinnati-Toledo-Minneapolis/​St. Paul route.

Grand Aire objected early this month after IAS began handling cargo flights other than DHL’s — business Grand Aire previously handled.

Port officials declared that expansion to be an illegal “through-the-fence” operation, but also moved to add reference to cargo handling to the agency’s standards and said IAS could legitimately branch out by establishing a formal, if minimal, presence there.

“The FAA does not expect single-service operators to be full-service [fixed-base operators],” Mr. Toth told the board Thursday.

Grand Aire’s Mr. Renda said the port’s action would, in fact, change the rules.

“I think the FAA would have a totally different opinion,” he told the board. “By changing those minimum standards, you are causing us harm. You can’t discriminate against an existing operator, and you are legitimizing this operation by including cargo handling.”

But Jeff Wagner, vice president and general counsel for Dallas-based IAS, said Grand Aire’s position was “anti-competitive” and denied that his company had damaged Grand Aire.

Mr. Wagner also rebutted Grand Aire’s assertion during an airport committee meeting Monday that IAS had done nothing to promote cargo traffic at Toledo Express and was merely poaching business Grand Aire had developed.

“We’ve been actively working with the port authority to market us as a ground handler,” Mr. Wagner said, explaining that IAS has operations at dozens of airports across the United States and counts United Parcel Service and the U.S. Postal Service among its major customers, along with DHL.

Mr. Toth repeated after the vote a sentiment he also stated during Monday’s committee meeting, that there was no outcome that would satisfy the controversy’s conflicting interests.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the port board approved an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation under which the authority will oversee design and construction of a new maintenance garage for ODOT in Crawford County.

The port authority completed a similar project last year in Monclova Township for ODOT’s replacement of its Lucas County garage. That arrangement, officials said, allowed the project to be built much faster than if ODOT had used its standard project-development process.

ODOT will pay the port authority for all project expenses plus a fee.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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