New Life for Braden Airpark (N43) in Easton, PA

Braden Airpark.

Braden Airpark.  (Photo by Kevin Mingora, The Morning Call)

 

In  May 2014 we first reported on the critical financial situation challenging the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority and its potential implications for Braden Airpark.

At that time, the Authority was facing the final $7 million payment on a $26 million debt stemming from a 1990s court judgement for the improper eminent domain annexation of a developer’s property. Among other measures, the Authority was considering selling the airpark to help pay off that debt.

Pilots and tenants at Braden, supported by the Lehigh Valley General Aviation Association (LVGAA), the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), convinced the Authority to instead form a committee to explore options to preserve the airport.

The outpouring of support for historic Braden, originally opened as Easton Airport in 1938 by a local entrepreneur, was significant in convincing the Authority to defer its sale. Another factor was that the Authority was in a no-win position because to satisfy the existing debt of owning Braden, its sale needed to net $3 million in proceeds. Prospects were slim: a group of local pilots offered only $1.8 million, and selling to a developer would involve rezoning, using up much of the proceeds in addition to triggering a requirement to repay an additional $3 million in state grants used for the airport’s maintenance over the years.

At the same time, operating expenses were outstripping revenues by about $39,000 per year.

With no obvious solution in sight, the Authority decided to continue operating the airport in the red until a solution was found. The uncertainty led to the relocation of about half of the 60 airplanes based at Braden, as well as Moyer Aviation, its long-time flight school.

Finally in July 2015 circumstances turned in favor of the Airport Authority, when it came to terms with the Rockefeller Group for the sale of 260 acres near the Lehigh Valley Airport (ABE) for $9.9 million (see update here).

That same month, no longer in dire financial straits the Authority unveiled a capital improvement plan for Braden that would replace the dilapidated terminal building, add a new hangar, and demolish several old, unused structures to make way for new buildings. Modular structures would be used as a temporary terminal, and a fence would be built around the field.

Charles Everett Jr., the Airport Authority’s Executive Director said, “I wouldn’t call this an about-face. It’s an effort to prudently plan Braden’s future, no matter who is running it.” But this was the good news that pilots and airport supporters had been hoping for: Mike Rosenfeld, president of the LVGAA, was more enthusiastic, saying, “This is wonderful news. Finally it seems like we’re all on the same team again. It’s not us against the authority.”

In August 2016 the Authority announced it was considering several options for improving the airport. One of those options – extending the runway – is thought too costly in the short term given the airport’s current amount of traffic. Lengthening the runway from its present 1,956 feet to 2,265 feet would require 10 acres and cost about $3 million. That project would need 500 takeoff and landing operations per year to justify, and require approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. A further extension to 2,700 feet would cost an additional $2.6 million and need 4 more acres.

The Authority favors a shorter-term plan to build a new 1,800 square foot terminal and at least two hangars, rehabilitate the existing runway, and build a security fence around the airport. This plan costs $2.7 million, and hinges on being able to lease several parcels and possibly sell another. The leases would net the airport authority about $350,000 per year, which would cover operating costs and make the airport profitable.

If airport traffic returns to previous levels and grows beyond, the runway extension project could be reconsidered. However, that is the remaining challenge — to grow airport use back to previous levels. As mentioned above, about half of the 60 airplanes based at Braden relocated because of the uncertainty surrounding its future. Now that the airport authority has solidified its support with the improvement plan, efforts will be made to bring those planes back and attract more. It is unknown whether a flight school can be convinced to locate to the field.

“If done appropriately, yes, this airport can be financially self-sustainable,” said Everett. “We would have to bring it up to standards, but the airport would remain a place for general aviation.”

 

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Staff Writer & Technical Support
Immediate Past Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

1. Once targeted for closure, Braden Airpark to get new life. Matt Assad. The Morning Call, July 28, 2015. http://www.mcall.com/business/mc-lehigh-northampton-airport-braden-20150728-story.html
2. LNAA, Rockefeller Group Development Corporation finalize property sale. WFMZ.com, May 20, 2016. http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-lehighvalley/Local/lnaa-and-rockefeller-group-development-corporation-finalize-property-sale/39645340
3. Airport authority sees a future for Braden Airpark. Edward Seiger. WFMZ.com, August 24, 2016. http://www.wfmz.com/news/news-regional-lehighvalley/airport-authority-sees-a-future-for-braden-airpark/41351588
4. Braden Airpark could get $2.7 million upgrade. Matt Assad. The Morning Call, September 21, 2016. http://www.mcall.com/business/mc-lehigh-valley-airport-braden-20160920-story.html