Airport Commission to Leesburg Council: Wait On Change

Members of the Leesburg Airport Commission have asked the Town Council to pump the brakes on changes to the structure of the panel, following a proposal by Mayor Kelly Burk.

Commissioners met for a special meeting Wednesday night, one week following a sometimes-contentious commission meeting where Burk was questioned on her decision to present the sweeping changes, which were first discussed at the Town Council Jan. 11. Among her proposed changes to the Town Code section governing the commission were changing membership to include non-voting representation from the airport’s two fixed-base operators and four flight schools, and taking away some of the commission’s current powers.

In a letter sent to the council Friday, ahead of the council’s planned Monday work session on Burk’s proposed changes, commissioners ask the council to defer action until after the Town Plan re-write is completed. That is expected to happen at some point later this year. 

“The consensus of the Commission is that, based on a multi-decade track record of the Airport Commission working harmoniously with the Council and Staff, additional time and resources, as well as public input, are needed in order to properly address these proposed changes,” the letter reads. “Historically, the Commission has worked successfully to grow and develop the airport, so major changes should be carefully studied to elaborate on the purpose for the changes, the problems that changes are focused on, and how these changes will affect the businesses and customers of the airport. It is also the sense of the Commission that changes should be made in consonance with the upcoming Town Plan, taking into consideration the Town’s desires for the appropriate roles of all Commissions in the future.”

Commissioners also underscored the need for an open public process in considering any changes, and suggested a working group should be formed, consisting of members of the Town Council, Airport Commission, and the staff. The letter goes on to recommend that the working group be charged with creating a mission statement and objective for the airport that coincides with the new Town Plan; gathering input from members of the airport, business and residential communities; providing opportunities for multiple business stakeholders at the airport to have input; and researching the applicability of an independent airport authority. The group would then report back to the full council with its recommendations.

On the option of creating an airport authority, the letter stated that commissioners shared Burk’s curiosity about whether that would be the best move for the municipal airport. An airport authority is an independent entity charged with overseeing the airport. If the town moves in that direction, Leesburg could look to some of its neighbors for examples. Winchester Regional Airport is run by an airport authority, with board members from five neighboring local governments—Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah, Clarke and the City of Winchester. On a larger scale, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority manages both Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports, and is governed by a 17-member board of directors, with members appointed by the governors of Virginia and Maryland, the mayor of Washington, DC, and the president of the United States. 

“As the airport grows, and additional developments are considered, a closer study of the benefits and costs of an independent Airport Authority is in the Town’s best interest and should be completed before making any changes to the current [commission] structure,” the letter said. 

3 thoughts on “Airport Commission to Leesburg Council: Wait On Change

  • 2021-01-23 at 3:25 pm

    This whole fiasco, instigated by Kelly Burk, stinks. It stinks of influence peddling. It stinks of special interests. And it stinks of the typical brand of deference to campaign contributors that brought us a removal of street parking on King St. and preferential sidewalk dining for only certain establishments owned by a couple of well-known landlords.

    You don’t even have to try to look in order to see that this is about well-monied business owners deciding that control of the airport should be in their hands rather than an experienced team of citizens who have done a phenomenal job for years against the headwinds that council members like Burk and Umstattd before her have thrown up. If not for the Airport Commission in its current form, Umstaddt would have had Leesburg shut down the airport entirely. If not for the Airport Commission in its current form, it would have been greatly diminished after the airspace restrictions put into place after 9/11. And if not for the commission in its current form, we’d never have gotten FAA grants for an extended runway, instrument landing system, state of the art remote tower, and all of the other modern features that drive increased flight operations, fuel sales, and business to the town’s direct benefit.

    Kelly should publicly admit this was an ill-conceived plan and ask the commission and town staff to take over finding ways to accommodate business input, neighborhood interests, and the needs of pilots. Otherwise, this just smells like what it is — payback to people who are using financial influence to get what they want from town politicians in an end run around the rest of us.

  • 2021-01-26 at 9:45 am

    Leesburg Airport seems to me to be corporate welfare — tax dollars subsidizing rich men with planes. Does it make any money? Not sure. Whatever Burk is doing sounds fine to me. Yes, maybe it’s political revenge for something, but reform is good.

  • 2021-02-01 at 2:28 pm

    @Vindicator, you should do your homework. The Leesburg Airport operates independently of the town’s general fund with only a very few exceptions. It isn’t funded by your tax dollars and you aren’t subsidizing anything. And it is a net revenue generator for the town. So before you jerk too many more knees, do a little research instead of throwing stones at the wrong target. You aren’t alone in your ignorance, so you might consider sharing what you learn with others, including (apparently) some town council members.

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