A Loudoun County Circuit Court judge Monday denied a bid to shut down or limit the operations of Leesburg Executive Airport’s newly approved second fixed-base operator, but the legal battle is expected to continue.
The Town of Leesburg in July approved plans by Kuhn Jet Center to begin FBO operations, which include directing and servicing aircraft at the airport.
For the past decade, the FBO duties have been conducted solely by Projet Aviation, which filed a lawsuit challenging the town’s approval of the KJC operations and sought a temporary injunction to halt them. The lawsuit centers on the claim that Leesburg breached ProJet’s lease contract, asserting that the town’s agreement with KJC violates provisions that prohibit another FBO to operate on more favorable terms than required of ProJet.
During a day-long hearing before Circuit Court Judge Stephen E. Sincavage, testimony focused on safety concerns resulting from the two-FBO operational plan developed by the town. Specifically, ProJet Managing Partner Shye Gilad objected to the town providing KJC a dedicated space on the public ramp near the airport’s terminal building for its exclusive use and raised concerns that the plan greatly increases safety risks on the airfield.
At the core of that controversy is a decision by Airport Manager Scott Coffman to segment the public ramp into four spaces for transient aircraft to park and be serviced. One is dedicated to ProJet, one to KJC, and the two in between are to be assigned on a first-come basis.
Gilad said the plan sharply reduces the operational capacity of the ramp, provides KJC with the space best suited to large aircraft and increases hazardous operational conditions with two FBO crews working to fuel and service aircraft in a small area with little coordination.
Called as witness to support ProJet’s allegations of increased safety concerns was Kirk Shaffer, a former FAA associate administrator for airports, who said the town should have established more rigorous safety protocols before implementing its shared ramp operations. He said that a mishap was “inevitable.”
“We’re all human. We all make mistake,” he said.
Coffman testified that the plan was reviewed by the FAA and that he has made, and continues to make, changes to improve safety in the shared space.
Gilad advocated an alternative operations plan in which ProJet would continue to manage the public ramp by the terminal and KCJ would primarily provide service to its customers on space it leases in front of its hangar on the north side of the airport. He said that was the plan employed the last time the airport operated with two FBOs from 2010 to 2012. In 2010, ProJet was established as the second FBO to Landmark Aviation. During that period, he said Project operated in its space to the north and Landmark operated at the public ramp at the terminal. In 2012, ProJet assumed Landmark’s lease and has been the sole FBO since that time.
While ProJet’s contract does not provide exclusive rights to the company, Gilad claims that the town is providing KJC with preferred status and that reducing its operational space on the public ramp undermines his company’s ability to continue operations. He said 40% of the company’s revenue comes from fuel sales to transient aircraft, a service now shared with KJC.
W. Eric Pilsk, the attorney representing the Town of Leesburg, said the town has acted within its rights—including to dictate use of the public ramp space—and has fairly applied minimum standards and lease obligations to both companies.
Stephen D. Charnoff, the attorney representing KJC, characterized the injunction request and the broader lawsuit as being against the public interest.
“This is an anti-competition motion, your honor. This is an anti-competition case,” he said.
Sincavage ruled that, while the claims in the broader lawsuit may have merit, ProJet failed to prove the elements of irreparable harm required to grant a temporary injunction. A date has not yet been set for trial in the case.
Following the ruling, Gilad said he was most concerned with the town’s “frivolous” approach to the safety of the operations.
“The test should not be to take a wait-and-see approach for something bad to happen. That’s not how you keep people safe,” he said.
While not a focus of Monday’s hearing, the lawsuit asserts that the town’s actions may undermine the financial viability of ProJet and the injunction motion raised concerns that the company may not be in business by the time the case gets to trial.
“Is that a concern? You bet I’m concerned,” Gilad said. “The town has decided to ignore past precedent to effectively take half of our capacity and give it to Kuhn Jet Services.”
Scott Kuhn, the president and CEO of Kuhn Aviation, said Monday’s ruling clears the way for the company to provide its growing aviation and business customers more options at a higher level of service and fair pricing at the KJC facility as well as the main terminal and public ramp.
Although it just recently opened, Kuhn said the company was on target to sell 40,000 gallons of fuel during August and already has established itself as the fuel and service provider for the majority of users at Leesburg Airport.
While Gilad characterized the KJC leadership and staff as unqualified or reckless in their airfield operations, Kuhn said the staff is well-trained and experienced.
“We are committed to accident and incident free operations. All team members are NATA Safety 1st trained. I have the NATA Safety 1st expert certification and seven years of experience,” he said. “Our two supervisors have 20 years of experience each. We also work closely with our fuel provider Titan Aviation Fuels on incorporating industry best practices. In fact, I also have a Fuel Quality Control certificate through Titan’s ACE training program.”
Town Attorney Christopher Spera said he agreed with Sincavage’s ruling that ProJet was not entitled to interim injunctive relief.
He said the town would continue to work with ProJet and KJC to promote a safe and professional transportation environment at the airport—and will continue to defend the litigation as necessary.
“The town’s top operational priority at the Leesburg Executive Airport has, and always will be, ensuring the safety, comfort, and convenience of the traveling public and of all airport users and staff,” Spera said.