Over the past couple of months, the local media, notably local television reporters, have continued to miss key and important parts of a major local story playing out at the two Shreveport airports.
There are a number of reasons for this.
The story is complex.
The person speaking for the Shreveport Airport Authority’s (SAA) side claims to have the support of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) behind him. With those two strikes against them, it is no wonder airport property owners are currently losing in the war of talking heads.
The first media misinterpretation has to do with dirt.
You may have heard (repeatedly) that a hangar owner at the Downtown Airport (DTN) pays $100 a month for a lease. The airport leaseholders own the hangars, just like anyone would own any building. They bought and paid for them, or built them.
They pay property taxes to the parish and city, pay for private insurance and ongoing maintenance on their private hangars.
They pay the Shreveport Airport Authority (SAA) for the dirt the hangars sit on, at a rate of either $.15 or $.19 cents a square foot depending on whether it is a private or commercial lease. Some of them do pay $100 a month for dirt, but others, depending on the size of their lot, pay many times that.
Local media has aired multiple interviews with Airport Director Henry Thompson in which he states losses at the Downtown Airport were due to years of mismanagement that was documented in a recent FAA audit. He states the tenants should pay for this mismanagement, though the tenants played no role in creating it.
It has been jokingly alleged that the $150,000 the airport is said to have lost could be easily found in the seat cushions of a couch at the Shreveport Airport Authority. The losses themselves are serious, and getting real numbers are almost impossible.
The budgets for the two Shreveport airports- Downtown and Shreveport Regional (SHV) are lumped into one budget. There is no way to determine what is being spent where and why.
A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the SAA by the tenants one month ago for the breakdown of airport expenses has still not been answered. A cursory examination of the airports budget shows large movements of money from airports to other city departments.
Thompson tells reporters, his 5-member board and whoever else will listen that everything he is doing is being ‘mandated by the FAA.’ That, too, is incorrect. FAA guidelines stress -repeatedly- that the ‘attempt’ should be made. The actual language used by the FAA is ‘should endeavor to…’ This is far different than ‘must.’
Thompson uses his ‘FAA mandate’ to threaten tenants of both airports with the taking (reversion) of their private property. He tells them that when a short lease option expires that what is theirs will belong to the SAA and the city.
This bad business threat has drawn the attention of- and intervention by- the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the North Louisiana Economic Partnership and the Committee of 100. These three entities wrote a letter to the Mayor stating that the SAA’s proposals are bad for business and for Shreveport. They create uncertainty for many businesses that utilize and own property at the two airports.
Tenants at both DTN and SHV agreed one year ago, after first receiving Thompson’s proposals, to allow a small tenant group to represent their interests. These tenants have waited a year for successful negotiations with SAA. No real progress has been made and time is running out.
Tenants are willing to talk about lease increases. They are not willing to agree to continued uncertainty and accelerated property reversion. This fight promises to be a hot mayoral campaign issue that needs to be settled. The city -and tenants- can return to the business-as-usual that the city needs. If not litigation may be the only resort for the airport tenants.