Serving the Lehigh Valley

2007 QC Fly-in

Project - Saving Queen City Airport

Queen City Dilemma

Mayor Ed Pawlowski of Allentown has been trying to get rid of the Queen City Airport for many years. Why? Because he believes we should converted the space into commercial development. He believes the tradeoff of replacing the current airport with new stores, increased traffic, etc, and incurring the cost of building a new "Queen City Airport" elsewhere, will on the whole better serve the residents of Allentown.

The problem is that opponents of the airport act as if a group of pilots has just taken over part of Allentown city to create an airport, and that they selfishly won't give the land back now to allow commercial development. They ignore the actual history of the airport's location as well as the legal agreements that have taken place since then. This also sets a precedent for determining what land should be taken over "for the greater good" of commercial development. Lastly, it ignores the source of and solution to the current Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority's (LNAA) financial problems.


Queen City Airport, 1954 (with connecting road to Mack Trucks from WWII aircraft production)

The Queen City Airport was formed in 1943, named "Convair Field", and established to help the war effort to supply aircraft for World War II. At that time, the airport was created on farmland adjacent to the Mack Truck manufacturing facility.

The airport was transferred by the FAA to the City of Allentown in the early 2000's [check date]. At this time, the City of Allentown was expected to be the steward for the airport, not utilize the airport land for commercial development. As such, rules were included in the transfer that specified that for the airport to ever be closed, it would first have to be replaced with a like airport, and not just transfer the airplanes to ABE. Queen City Airport has two perpendicular runways (allowing for safer landings in crosswind conditions). There were important reasons for the FAA to add these restrictions. Safety for all of those concerned is the primary one. Note that since 1989, the FAA has invested $11 million in enhancing Queen City Airport's 210 acre tract.

Even if the City of Allentown could navigate a way around the legal agreements that stand in their way from converting the airport into commercial real estate, should they? What is the measure of which land can be "grabbed" by a city to boost its tax base? Will the Allentown Municipal Golf Course be condemned for more shopping malls because it only serves Allentown's golfers? Should the more than 1000 acres of city park space be converted into office space because it only serves nature lovers? We don't think so.

Oddly, this isn't even the first time that Mayor Pawlowski has attempted to sell the Queen City Airport. As reported in this link from 2004, Allentown officials had been studying relocating the airport for "two decades". Allentown and the LNAA had an agreement which expired that year to "determine the future of Queen City". Even at that time, studies showed the costs of moving the airport exceeded the benefits and the airport remained where it is today.

Note that selling Queen City has little to do with the land problems at ABE. The issue here is that LVIA battled with Willow Brook Farms (WBF) back in the early 1990's over land. As new residents moved closer to the airport and then complained about noise from the air traffic, ABE attempted to buy more land adjacent to the airport to preclude the same issues from happening should the adjacent land be developed with residential housing. Better to reserve additional land should the airport need to expand later. However, this move devalued adjacent land that was currently in the process of development. The legal battles began about 1989 and culminated in a lawsuit in 1998. ABE continued to fight the monetary damages in court until 2011. During this time, ABE paid more than $4 million dollars in legal fees.

In July 2011, a judge scheduled the repayment of the remaining $16 million to be paid. Considering the assets and income sources then available, the plan created a ballooning payment plan:

  • $2 million, 2012
  • $3 million, 2013
  • $4 million, 2014
  • balance, 2015

At the time of the scheduled payments, the following were shown as the possible sources of income:

  • nearly $3 million in FAA grants
  • $9 million, sale of property
  • $400,000, Additional $2.50-per-ticket charge
  • Up to $600,000, parking fee increase of 10 percent
  • $10 million, proceeds from bond sales

Note that the "sale of property" does not require the sale of 210 acre Queen City Airport (or Braden Airpark). The article above sites Attorney Malcom J Gross at the time as suggesting the sale of "most of the 632 acres it seized [adjoining ABE]." Other means of generating the required payback money was also provided.

In short, we feel that focusing on the sale of Queen City Airport as the source of repayment of the judgment is wrong. It only serves to advance the mayor's desire to condemn activities he doesn't personally benefit from and circumvent the city's previous legal agreements with the FAA (who would want to enter into future agreements with the City of Allentown after this?). It is convenient for the mayor to site the financial problems at ABE this year as yet another excuse for selling off city assets.

According to the Pennsylvania Economic Impact Study - Queen City Airport, the total economic impact of the Queen City Airport (direct and secondary) was approximately $2.9 million. Why do people visit Queen City Airport? Here are some example reasons (source 2011 QC visitor log):

  • Fuel, Seminar, IFR practice, etc
  • Business Meeting, Business Charter, Work, Air Products, Mack, etc
  • Pilots n Paws Rescue Flight, Patient Pickup, etc
  • Family Visit, Friends, Father's Day, Pickup, etc
  • Breakfast, Lunch, College Visit, Dorney Park, Meeting at Local Auto Dealership, etc

So what should we do with Queen City Airport? We believe we should continue to let it grow. Let's provide some stability to the airport - perhaps no threats of closure for a couple years. Allow third parties to grow the hangar space, collect more rent, and contribute to the city's bottom line. Improve the promotion, currently non-existent, of Queen City Airport (current focus has only been LVIA). Continue to provide pilot training and aircraft maintenance for Lehigh Valley aviation and supply fuel for transient general aviation aircraft (which appreciate the two large runways and reasonable fuel price). Keep Queen City Airport both pilot and neighborhood friendly (an on-site restaurant would be great!).

Mayor's Position on LNAA Board

The LVGAA is questioning having the Mayor of Allentown as a member of the Lehigh-Northampton Aviation Authority (LNAA). The dual roles present a clear conflict of interest. When it comes to selling off LNAA assets within the City of Allentown, how can the mayor be objective and represent both parties?

Mayor Pawlowski was attempting to get rid of the Queen City Airport long before joining the board of the LNAA and even before he became the mayor of Allentown. In 2004, as Allentown's Community and Economic Development Director under then Mayor Roy C Afflerbach, was attempting to sell of Queen City Airport. Pawlowski said he was excited by Finley's reaction to the airport because it would show the Airport Authority that private developers are interested in the site. Clearly, Ed Pawlowski believed in 2004 that he would seek to benefit the City of Allentown at the expense of the LNAA. The motivation in 2004 was strictly to develop the land for commercial and industrial use, not to pay off any legal debts like the current rationalization.

USA Today 2009: "There's no need to have this airport," Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski says of Queen City. Its 200 acres could be sold for $40 million to generate $500 million in development, $6 million a year in taxes for Allentown schools and $4 million for the city, Pawlowski says. The mayor says his efforts to close Queen City are blocked because the airport has received $13 million in federal funds. The FAA requires airports getting money to remain as airports, usually for 20 years. "That makes no sense to me," Pawlowski says.

Morning Call 2010: Pawlowski freely admits he has ulterior motives for wanting to sell it [Queen City Airport].

Morning Call 2011: When asked by a reporter, Haines and solicitor Glenn Williams denied attempting to accuse Pawlowski of a conflict over the smaller airfield, located on the city's South Side along Interstate 78. But their actions brought to light questions about divided loyalties and serving two masters.

Airport authority bylaws do not delineate who decides whether a conflict exists or set out a process for dealing with one. Pawlowski, for his part, said he believes selling Queen City is in the best interest of both the airport authority and the city. Cash-strapped Allentown would benefit from taxes generated by developing the airfield.

"It's a win-win," the mayor says.

Solicitor Williams, at the board's reorganization session Tuesday, explained that board members have only two requirements: to be informed before they vote, and to have absolute loyalty to the airport when they do.

In 2010, Mayor Ed Pawlowski was appointed to the LNAA Board. The City of Allentown has been renting a large hangar that was previously used for airplane production at Queen City Airport to use for maintenance of city vehicles (at less than $50,000 annual rent!) and strangely the mayor was present to advocate extending the lease to the city (Sept 2011). Who was he representing? The city or the board? We believe that when a member of the LNAA board is in a position to benefit (personally or through other affiliations) from a decision of the board, that member should at the very least highlight their potential conflict-of-interest and recuse themselves from participating in that topic. How can someone be objective to the board's mission when they stand to benefit from a specific course of action? They can't just say that they will be objective.

Business Matters Rebuttal

The following relates to the WFMZ Business Matters - Queen City Airport Debate. Comments below are from Ed Pawlowski, Mayor of the City of Allentown, and Jay Goldstein, a former Harrisburg lobbyist.

The LVGAA would like to correct a lot of misinformation provided by the opponents of Queen City Airport.

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: There are not that many planes that land here... If you look at Flight Tracker, Flight Aware, which is a national website that actually Flight Aware tracks flights taking off and landing. If you look at the average as I have for several months, they're basically averaging only 900 flights per year at that airport.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 11:00

LVGAA Comment:
This is largely nonsense and totally misleading. Flight Aware only tracks flights that are under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) which originate or terminate at the airport (as opposed to en route) and also not blocked by the user. This is site does not know how many flights are flown under the more typical Visual Flight Rules (VFR). General Aviation (GA) aircraft fly IFR when weather conditions require it and the pilot is IFR certified (typically low overcast or foggy conditions) or when an IFR pilot is undergoing initial or recurrent proficiency training or practice. It would be expected that a general aviation airport that attracts smaller aircraft and many "fair weather" pilots would have a small percentage of flights be IFR based. In fact, many of the airplanes based at Queen City have never been tracked in IFR conditions and are not even listed in Flight Aware's history!

According to AOPA Airports, the official total annual number of general aviation flights at Queen City Airport is 49,800 (ending 11/18/2010).

Similarly, in 2010, Jay Goldstein said "LVIA averaged just 19.2 commercial flights in an 18-hour period per day, or about one flight per hour." Beware of critics siting "average" number of flights at ABE to make it appear not very busy. Commercial flight activity peaks at certain times of the day. Analysis of IFR traffic at ABE on Flight Aware shows at peak times of the day, operations occur at sustained 6-8 per hour. That's an arrival or departure every 8-10 minutes on one runway at ABE. Planes need adequate FAA specified spatial separation as well as time to taxi on and off runways. This is a far cry from "about one flight per hour".

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: You have 50 planes there that could easily be moved to LVIA.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 8:07

LVGAA Comment:
This is not true. The last official airplane count was 102. The mayor has understated the number of airplanes at Queen City by 50%! Also note that most of the aircraft at Queen City are kept in rented hangars and there is not enough hangar space at any neighboring airport to accommodate them.

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: The airport loses money every year. If you look at the audits, nine out of ten the last years, it's actually lost money.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 8:02

LVGAA Comment:
At the last LVIA board meeting (November 2011) they reported that the profit for Queen City Airport is $80,000, and projected to be $100,000 by the end of 2011, despite the tough economic times. To ignore the recent profit of the airport by obscuring it with results of the previous 9 years is disingenuous. At least acknowledge the trend or that it's not losing money "every" year!

The Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association has encouraged development of the Queen City Airport, by adding additional hangar space, etc. However, with Queen City Airport constantly "on the chopping block," it has been difficult. Only when stability is again restored to Queen City will we have the ability to grow the economic impact of the airport.

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: We have 150 acres that are set aside for a third runway out by LVIA.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 8:10

LVGAA Comment:
This implies that general aviation aircraft just need a dedicated runway at ABE. This is not true. Small aircraft still need to use the runway best aligned with the prevailing wind. When the wind happens to be in the same direction as two runways, the Air Traffic Control (ATC) system would be able to utilize both runways, but not likely at the same time. ATC must provide adequate spacing between arriving aircraft, even on parallel runways.

In addition to safety factors for preventing aircraft from flying into each other, ATC and pilots are also concerned with wake turbulence, a phenomena where the air currents leaving a large, heavy airplane create turbulence which can cause a small airplane to crash.

When the wind direction is perpendicular to the proposed new runway, small aircraft would necessarily need to land on an existing runway that better matches the wind. Queen City Airport has two perpendicular runways for this reason, to allow for landing into the wind with minimal crosswind affects. When winds are from the north or south, general aviation aircraft would be interspersed with arriving and departing commercial traffic if a single runway were added at ABE. Note that a Boeing 727 will land at 130-150 knots, while a Cessna 150 will land at about 60 knots.

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: I'm open to compromise on this issue. No one even wants to talk about it. I would even say get rid of one runway [at Queen City] and redevelop 120 acres.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 22:54

LVGAA Comment:
Airports don't have perpendicular runways to land more airplanes at one time. Airplanes land into the prevailing wind, and removing one runway would severely limit the accessibility of general aviation planes as wind conditions change. It's unlikely that the FAA, which would require a similar two runway replacement for Queen City Airport, would allow removing one of the existing runways. It would affect the safety of departing and arriving aircraft.

People should understand that all of the corners and indents of the original Queen City Airport have already been sold off and converted into commercial business space. See map of Queen City Airport here.

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: It's the only way we could pay off this law suit.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 8:16

LVGAA Comment:
There are other sources of income at Lehigh Valley International Airport. Fees for commercial passengers, fuel, parking or even selling the 632 acres of newly acquired land at ABE are all opportunities to raise the necessary revenue. When the payback plan was created at ABE, these were the methods outlined as viable repayment options.

Jay Goldstein
Quote: The members of the general aviation community sit on the board, and they run the board, and decide Queen City is not going to be sold.
Speaker: Jay Goldstein
Time into video: 7:48

LVGAA Comment:
A comparison of the 17 member Board of Governors for the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority 2010 listing against the FAA pilot database shows that only two are even listed as pilots! It's not clear how the general aviation community can run the board with such small representation!

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: If you look at the Federal Airline Regulations here, it's Airline Regulations 5190.6B we could decommission this airport.
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 10:50

LVGAA Comment:
Federal Aviation Administration Order 5190.6B "Airport Compliance Requirements" is the generic document on airports. Releases from Federal Obligations is the section dealing with releasing an airport. It says,

Any property, when described as part of an airport in an agreement with the United States or defined by an airport layout plan (ALP) or listed in the Exhibit "A" property map, is considered to be "dedicated" or obligated property for airport purposes by the terms of the agreement. If any of the property so dedicated is not needed for present or future airport purposes, an amendment to, or a release from, the agreement is required.

In all cases, the benefit to civil aviation is the FAA's prime concern and is represented by various considerations. These include the future growth in operations; capacity of the airport; the interests of aeronautical users and service providers; and the local, regional, and national interests of the airport. It is the responsibility of the FAA airports district offices (ADOs) and regional airports divisions to review the release request and to execute the release document, if appropriate.

The document does describe how any airport can be released, but it is subject to a very strict set of rules. (read the above link below details)

Mayor Pawlowski
Quote: To redevelop Queen City Airport, OK, would not only help the regional airport to grow and expand...
Speaker: Mayor Ed Pawlowski
Time into video: 16:46

LVGAA Comment:
It's not obvious to us that converting Queen City Airport into a shopping mall would help ABE "grow and expand".

Jay Goldstein
Quote: Finally, the gas. At Queen City Airport, $7.09 at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport, $5.82 at Queen City Airport. For an airport authority... [cut off]
Speaker: Jay Goldstein
Time into video: 24:58

LVGAA Comment:
This comment keeps showing up in the news, but it's not clear what the motivation is. Is it that the cost of aviation fuel is too expensive in Philadelphia or too cheap in Allentown? This almost suggests that there's competition between these two airports for selling Aviation Gas (AVGAS). There isn't. Pilots here will not fly down to Philadelphia to refuel, any more than someone in Allentown would drive to Kutztown to refuel their automobile.

Queen City does compete for refueling local and transient aircraft, and that is typically against nearby small airports. At the time of pricing reported at Queen City Airport in AOPA Airports (Queen City), the price for 100LL (typical fuel for small piston engine aircraft) was $5.89. The price at nearby Slatington Airport was AOPA Airports (Slatington) $4.65 per gallon. However, the price at Reading Airport was AOPA Airports (Reading) $5.93 per gallon. The airport authority prices their AVGAS low enough to prevent most pilots from flying to Slatington to refuel, for example, (some do) while high enough to make a profit. Jay seems to think that raising the price to $7.00 per gallon to compete with Philadelphia is good economics even though there is a nearby airport selling it much cheaper!

Jay Goldstein
Quote: This is a Reliever Airport. That's wrong... [moderator: for our viewers, it's not helping with overload.] Absolutely not. Complete misinformation.
Speaker: Jay Goldstein
Time into video: 6:57

LVGAA Comment:
Technically, Jay is correct. Queen City is not on the current FAA National Plan which lists currently designated "reliever" airports. It says (page 50):

Redistribution of traffic among airports to make more efficient use of facilities is another measure that can be used to reduce delays. Reliever airports have been identified and improved in metropolitan areas to provide general aviation pilots an attractive alternative to congested commercial service airports. Large metropolitan areas usually have a system of reliever airports, one or more of which can accommodate corporate jet aircraft, with others designed for use by smaller, propeller-driven aircraft.

It is important to realize the criteria that the FAA uses in designating an airport as an official reliever airport. See FAA Public Use Airport Categories. It says:

Reliever Airports - Those airports designated by the FAA to relieve congestion at Commercial Service airports. Reliever airports must have at least 100 based aircraft or 25,000 annual itinerant operations.

We feel that the current with Queen City having greater than 100 based aircraft and almost 50,000 annual operations as well as its ability to off-load ABE traffic should allow it to eventually receive official "reliever" status in the National Plan. Note that this does not mean that large aircraft would be diverted to Queen City. This status only reflects the airport's ability to continue to offload a sizable amount of general aviation traffic from ABE. Regardless of today's designation, Queen City Airport does offer relief to ABE in terms of decreasing general aviation traffic there.

Interesting Reactions on the Web

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