Wednesday, July 19, 2000

Group fights Lunken proposal

Expansion plan riles neighbors

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A charter jet company controlled by billionaire investor Warren Buffet wants to build a hangar and maintenance facility at Lunken Airport, an expansion that would result in more private jets flying over nearby Mount Lookout.

        Executive Jet Management plans to start construction in August of a 75,000-square-foot hangar that would include shops and office space, as well as additional ramp space of 80,000 square feet.

        But the expansion hinges on Cincinnati City Council approval, and a Mount Lookout citizens group vows a fight, even though airport management promises the extra flights won't cause much more noise.

        “They tell us these jets are 40 percent quieter, but I challenge them to tell that to someone who gets awakened in the middle of the night,” said Tony Giglio, president of Mount Lookout Civic Club.

        Mount Lookout residents have a sympathetic ear in Cincinnati Councilman Todd Portune, who unsuccessfully pushed a motion at the council's last meeting calling for a halt to new development at Lunken.

        Mr. Portune said if City Manager John Shirey's staff doesn't respond to citizen concerns, he will resurrect his motion at council's next regular meeting, July 31.

        Executive Jet Management, which is owned by Mr. Buffett's Omaha, Neb.-based Berkshire Hathaway, wants to build a regional aircraft maintenance repair shop next to its existing facilities at Lunken. The facility would be a regional stop for private corporate, chartered and rented aircrafts needing repair, said Ginnell Schiller, Executive Jet Management's vice president of marketing.

        The company already has ordered an unspecified num ber of jets that would get regular maintenance repairs at the hangar, airport and company officials said. It would also service aircraft operated by its sister company, Columbus-based Net Jets.

        “They've been growing at a rapid pace over the last four or five years and just ran out of space at their current facility,” Airport Manager Dan Dickten said.

        The company wants to build the hangar, office and ramp space next to its Airport Road facilities.

        The airport started demolition of four, World War II-era hangars Monday to make room for the expansion, Mr. Dickten said. Demolition will be completed today at a cost of $18,000.

        “This was proposed to happen in the early 1990s and never did. Then Warren Buffet took over,” Mr. Dickten said of the Wall Street whiz whose firm caters to wealthy investors.

        A development agreement drafted by the city's planning staff calls for Executive Jet Management to pay the airport $35,000 a year to lease the space with annual payments increasing at the rate of inflation. The five-year deal also has five, five-year renewal options, so the contract could span 30 years.

        The airport also would get extra revenue by selling fuel to aircraft stopping at Lunken.

        Neither Mr. Dickten nor Ms. Schiller would project how many additional flights the expansion would create. The airport had 120,000 planes depart and arrive a year ago, about half the number of flights in and out of Lunken during the mid-1970s.

        The expansion would create 60 jobs, mostly maintenance workers, Mr. Dickten said. Executive Jet Management also plans to establish its corporate headquarters at the new office space, creating some higher-paying, white-collar jobs.

        Mr. Giglio said Mount Lookout residents are concerned that the expansion would pave the way for more commercial jets to use Lunken as an alternate airport, creating noise and disrupting residential areas.

        “There are certain needs we understand, like economic development around the airport,” Mr. Giglio said. “But once the runways are expanded, that gets the ball rolling” for commercial airlines to begin considering Lunken.


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