Internal battles stifling Brooksville airport's potential

Chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority Gary Schraut, shown here at a  commissioner’s meeting at a Hernando County Government Center in March, is mad drama at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority Gary Schraut, shown here at a commissioner’s meeting at a Hernando County Government Center in March, is mad drama at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.

There are a handful of troublemakers among the many pilots and business people at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, says Gary Schraut, chairman of the county Aviation Authority.

He calls them "the fab five," short for "the fabricating five."

They are "bomb throwers," and they are "like terrorists" in that the airport can't let them have their way, he said.

"If you give in to the terror, it's all better, right? No, it isn't."

As mad as he is at them, he might be even madder at Diane Rowden, the county commissioner who serves as the liaison to the authority.

"There's a war coming," Schraut said, referring to Rowden.

What is this anger all about?

A lot of things, really, because every issue the authority takes up — the control tower, drone testing, the airport's new name, its proposed radar system — seems to generate a new batch.

But the latest and maybe nastiest dispute is over the lease of the former Brooksville Air Center, which includes a hangar, office building and fuel depot.

Corporate Jet Solutions of Clearwater wants to move its aircraft maintenance business there and begin offering flight training and fuel sales.

This would cut into the business of American Aviation, which now has an exclusive market on fuel sales at the airport.

After Corporate Jet Solutions had been negotiating a lease for weeks, American Aviation — which plans to upgrade its flight school — sent a letter saying it wanted to put in a bid, too.

Bradley Dye of Corporate Jet responded by going to the commission last month to say that his application had been "discouraged," suggesting (I guess, because he didn't name names) that somebody with the county or the authority was helping American Aviation undermine his deal.

It was a vague accusation and not a very solid one.

There's no proof the county was out of line in allowing American Aviation president John Petrick to submit a bid.

And if Petrick's interest in this property has more to do with protecting his business than expanding it — which is certainly possible — that's for the commission to sort out when it hears the companies' proposals June 14.

You could dismiss the whole thing as a tempest in a teapot, except the airport is no teapot.

It's got long runways, access to rail and expressways. It's near a big urban area, but the cost of doing business here is far less, the opportunities for expansion far greater.

It really could be a center of aviation-based industry, and there's been real progress moving it in that direction.

It really could be our future.

But we'll blow it if every discussion keeps turning into a brawl.

So as scary as it sounds, this is what it has come: We need the commissioners to act as four statesmen and, especially, one stateswoman, because Rowden has had a big hand in stirring this pot.

They need to step back from this current controversy rather than get caught up in it.

That goes double for Schraut.

If the complaints about the authority are as empty as he says, he needs to learn to ignore them. He needs to realize his grudge-bearing leadership style is becoming a liability.

Because I think he'd agree that the airport doesn't need any more bomb throwers.

Internal battles stifling Brooksville airport's potential 05/31/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 31, 2013 8:04pm]

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