New businesses give Braden Air Park (N43) fresh life

Two new businesses open at Braden Air Park on September 20. (Photo: Brian Pedersen)

Two new businesses open at Braden Air Park (N43) on September 20. (Photo: Brian Pedersen)

A few short years ago, we were lamenting the apparent impending closure of a small airport near the Allentown PA, area that was steeped in local aviation history.

We’re happy to report that Braden Airpark (N43), in Easton PA, is now well on the road to recovery, thanks to the determined efforts of local pilots, businessmen, and other aviation enthusiasts who saw greater value in keeping it an airport instead of selling to developers. Also a bit of good fortune (or perhaps solid business acumen) on the part of its owner, the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority (LNAA).

To briefly recap:
In 2014 the cash-strapped LNAA had been struggling to pay down its debt of about $26 million, most of which resulted from an unfavorable court judgement from a land dispute in 1998 (1,2). The case dragged on for years but LNAA lost its final court appeal in 2009.

Meanwhile due to the great recession, the authority’s primary operation at Lehigh Valley International Airport (KABE to the FAA, known locally as LVIA) had been losing air traffic volume (and thus revenue) and was having difficulty meeting its normal obligations, let alone making payments on the legal judgement.

By 2014 LNAA was facing a final debt payment of $7.2 million with no solution in sight,  forcing it to look at its other assets, Braden and Queen City Airport (KXLL), with an eye to potentially consider selling them off.

Naturally, the airport’s tenants and the local pilot community were up in arms over this possibility and they quickly joined the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association, the EAA Chapter 70, and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to try and save the airport. EAA Chapter 70 is very active in the area, sponsoring not only Young Eagles and the Civil Air Patrol, but also the Boy Scouts and other community activities. The groups held events to raise community awareness and support for the airport, and the pilots association even offered to buy it but were rebuffed due to the offering price being less than the authority needed.

However the alternative, selling it to a developer, would require not only a zoning change but also likely trigger a repayment of state grant funds used to maintain the airport. This would put the authority on the hook for an additional $3 million.

In February 2015, a solution finally did materialize when the LNAA sold 260 acres of Lehigh Valley International Airport (LVIA) land to a New York investment group for $9.9 million. This enabled the authority to pay off its debts and put some money in the bank, as well as relieving it from having to sell either Braden, Queen City, or another parcel of LVIA that had been under negotiation. As we said earlier—a smart business move by LNAA.

The sale of the land also allowed LNAA to concentrate its efforts on streamlining operations and finances at LVIA. And since 2015 the airport has experienced a gradual, then accelerated growth of passenger traffic and revenue.

With the turnaround in growth at LVIA, the authority turned its attention to improving Braden, beginning with an active marketing campaign to attract development. In early 2016 the authority opened up 44 acres to new development and sent a mailing to all aviation-related businesses within 100 miles of Braden. The old terminal was demolished and a modular structure was put in place to serve as a temporary terminal until the new one is built. Money was also spent on renovating hangars, floors, and roofs.

In June 2017 the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation awarded a grant of $320,000 to design and build a new terminal, and this was followed by a grant of $250,o00 from Northampton County Department of Economic Development to invest in capital improvements to attract new business.

Which brings us to 2018.

In June, the LNAA approved a lease agreement with Atlantic Airmotive to provide aircraft maintenance services, which had been missing from Braden for six years and had contributed to the decline in tenant-based aircraft. The authority also signed a lease in May with ProFlight Aero Services to provide flight instruction. ProFlight owner Nouman Saleem said he had always wanted to do something in aviation, and his success in the hospitality industry has permitted him to do so.

Saleem owns hotels around the U.S., including a Holiday Inn Express in Allentown, and he is a commercial, multi-engine certificated pilot himself. ProFlight already has three instructors and nine student pilots. Rounding out the new businesses at Braden is SpiritWings Aviation, who shares space with ProFlight in Hangar 2. SpiritWings will provide aircraft maintenance services, parts, and sales for aircraft up to light twins, and Saleem indicated they will provide maintenance for ProFlight’s aircraft.

Officials recently celebrated the grand opening of the two latest businesses earlier today, seen in the photo at the top of the article.

Despite acknowledging a need to rebuild the tenant base and let pilots know that Braden is back for good, airport and county officials and local pilots are very happy and excited about the turnaround at Braden. LNAA Director of Business Development, Darren Betters said, “Braden is back on the map and will stay on the map.”

We couldn’t agree more.

 

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Contributing Author & Technical Support
Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

Sources:
1. Pennsylvania Airpark Wins Reprieve From Closure. Mike Straka. HangarNetwork eNewsletter, May 2014. https://www.hangarnetwork.com/newsdisplay/1117322343756

2. Follow-up on Braden Airpark and Queen City Airport. Mike Straka. HangarNetwork blog, July 9, 2015. https://www.hangarnetwork.com/blog/?p=244

3. Authority hopes campaign to boost business at Braden Airpark pays off. Brian Pederson. Lehigh Valley Business website, February 12, 2018. http://www.lvb.com/article/20180212/lvb01/180219985/authority-hopes-campaign-to-boost-business-at-braden-airpark-pays-off

4. Airport authority continues investment in Braden Airpark. Edward Sieger. 69News website, June 26, 2018. http://www.wfmz.com/news/lehigh-valley/airport-authority-continues-investment-in-braden-airpark/759165576

5. Officials say two new businesses will bring resurgence at Braden Airpark. Brian Pederson. Lehigh Valley Business website, September 20,2018. http://www.lvb.com/article/20180920/LVB01/180929989/officials-say-two-new-businesses-will-bring-resurgence-at-braden-airpark