An increase in hangar rents and a crackdown on rule violations has some small aircraft owners and mechanics feeling like the Salt Lake City Airport Authority doesn't want them around anymore.
A group of mechanics, small business owners and private pilots met Monday to voice complaints against the Airport Authority, which operates Salt Lake International Airport, Airport No. 2 in West Jordan and Tooele Valley Airport.About 100 members of the general aviation community have formed the UGAA or Utah General Aviation Association to combat what they say are discrepancies between city and federal regulations and "radical changes" in how the Airport Authority enforces rules governing airport users.
"They would like to get rid of all general aviation and turn it into corporate aviation on this (east) side so you have the big airplanes but don't have any of the little ones," alleged Edith Steele, co-owner of Proflight Inc., a flight school based at Salt Lake International.
Airport Authority spokeswoman Barbara Gann said that just isn't the case. She said the Airport Authority is committed to having small commercial and private planes and support services - collectively known as general aviation - at all of its airports.
One of the association's biggest complaints, according to Steele, is that three independent airplane mechanics have been warned by the Airport Authority to stop working on planes inside hangars on Salt Lake International property.
Gann said the authority simply wants the mechanics to show that they are licensed, insured and bonded - a longstanding city requirement.
Steele said several veteran mechanics tried to acquire a city permit but were denied.
"Essentially, they've said in order to get the professional skills permit you must lease property from the Airport Authority and basically start your own FBO (fixed-base operation)," Steele said. "They make it sound like they're being reasonable, but we haven't found that they are."
Gann said the Airport Authority has not changed its regulations or the way it enforces them but recently obtained evidence that certain mechanics were working in violation of airport rules.
"We're just being a good manager," she said. "We really believe in maintaining a general aviation community. It's always been one of our goals. It's just gotten to the point where we can't subsidize it any longer and don't want to take on the potential liability of unlicensed practices."
Gann said the desire to let general aviation pay for itself is why the Airport Authority recently increased monthly rents for hangars and tie-down spaces. According to Steele, most rents have increased 25 percent to 30 percent but some have doubled.
At Monday's meeting, airport users charged that airport-based Salt Lake City police officers have been unfair, handing out citations for obscure violations. When rules are broken, many times it's because people don't know the rules or because the rules themselves are contradictory, Steele said.