Monday, April 23, 2018
Business

Airport lawsuit pits Hernando County against bully Hillsborough

The people trying to raise the profile of our local airport have a message for the litigation-happy members of the Hillsborough Aviation Authority:

Thank you!

It's a big job, getting the word out when you change the name of an airport, as the Hernando County Commission did last month.

The county wants to spread news of this name — Brooksville-Tampa Regional Airport — to a target audience of airport managers, pilots and anybody else in the aviation business. In other words, precisely the crowd that pays attention when one airport sues another.

The Hernando Aviation Authority is trying to let these people know that it offers some of the same opportunities as Tampa International Airport, not that far away, and at a facility where doing business might be simpler and cheaper.

The helpful folks in Hillsborough practically shouted this from the rooftops when it sued the Hernando commission and the aviation authority on Thursday over its new name. Because why sue if you aren't worried that this much smaller airport might take away some business?

Finally, it doesn't hurt if, as this news gets around, one party comes off looking small and reasonable and the other big and spiteful.

"It's classic David versus Goliath," said county Commissioner David Russell. "You can't buy this kind of publicity."

No, this isn't all good news, partly because there's a lot at stake.

The county's Office of Business Development worked for nearly two years to come up with this name — researching it, running it by focus groups.

The problem with the old name, Hernando County Airport, is that so few people outside of Central Florida knows where Hernando County is, the office said.

It decided the airport should use the name of its best-known city, Brooksville, which, conveniently, is how the airport has always been known to pilots. The new name should also do what locals do when they are asked where the heck Brooksville is — tell people it's not far from Tampa.

It's fully justified because just about every applicable government agency includes Hernando as part of the Tampa Bay area.

For that reason, maybe replacing "Tampa" in the new name with "Tampa Bay" would have left the Hillsborough authority on even shakier legal grounds.

But even that version was unacceptable to the people who run TIA, which basically lays claim to any name that combines the two words "Tampa" and "Airport."

Hernando County Attorney Garth Coller assured the commission last month this argument is "absurd. … You can't trademark a place name."

Of course, the Hillsborough authority's lawyers think otherwise. And if a judge agrees with them, it will mean the time and effort of coming up with the name will have been wasted. So will the cost of fighting this lawsuit.

The judgment of the average person, though, seems to be going Hernando's way. Certainly, everyone I talked to in the county Friday was outraged at the arrogance of the Hillsborough authority.

Maybe we're all being defensive bumpkins. But in this nasty election season, it was nice to all be on the same page, united against those bullies in Tampa.

So, thanks for that, too.

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