No transparency in airport negotiations
Airport Director Centini claims public does not need to know
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport is owned and operated by the counties of Lackawanna and Luzerne and is a governmental subdivision controlled by six board members. Of these, three hail from Lackawanna County and three from Luzerne County, all presiding as the Bi-County Airport Board, according to the airport’s website at www.FlyAVP.com.
Current board members are Luzerne County Manager Robert Lawton, Luzerne County Councilmen Tim McGinley and Rick Williams, and Lackawanna County Commissioners James Wansacz, Corey O’Brien, and Patrick O’Malley.
At the July 18 Bi-County Airport Board meeting, approval was given by the board for airport management to begin negotiating a new contract with Aviation Technologies as the incoming fixed based operator (FBO) at the Avoca Airport. A fixed base operator is responsible for commercial and general aviation fueling, aircraft maintenance, charter flights, and flight school operations, amongst other duties.
The current fixed base operator is Saker Aviation, whose ten-year contract expires on August 31 of this year.
Upon the recommendation of Airport Director Barry Centini, the board voted 5–0 (Lawton did not register a vote), authorizing management to commence negotiating a contract with Aviation Technologies.
Before a final recommendation was presented to the board, a number of companies submitted proposals to assume responsibilities as the new fixed base operator. Those proposals were reviewed by Centini, Airport Assistant Director Michael Conner, and Director of Finance and Administration Gary Borthwick, according to Centini. Proposals arrived from Aviation Technologies, Taughannock Aviation, VOLO Aviation, current FBO Saker Aviation, and others.
Centini was asked for access to the RFQ/RFPs (request for qualifications/proposals) submitted by the competing businesses, as well as the rating matrix used in determining a final recommendation. He responded, “It is not public knowledge and it is their [the airport board’s] responsibility to evaluate who is best to serve the airport needs.” The Gazette explained that when performing a similar investigation into Wilkes-Barre’s Hawkeye surveillance system the documents similar to those now being sought were readily available. Centini responded tersely, “Then get a Right-to-Know.”
The Independent Gazette has attempted to contact all of the airport board members to pose some serious questions. These queries include how the evaluations were performed, how the RFQ/RFPs were written, and to what extent—if at all—the handling of the FBO contract represents “business as usual” in Luzerne and Lackawanna Counties. Could it be that contracts are being awarded based not on merit, but on whom one is related to or knows?
Of the board members the WBIG has had contact with, none have seen any rating matrix indicating how Centini’s favored applicant was determined.
It has come to light that some substantial up-front money has been offered to upgrade current FBO facilities by the companies pursuing the FBO contract. It has also been discovered that the “flowage fee” offered to the airport varies among the competing companies. A flowage fee is a percentage of fuel revenue the fixed based operator returns to the airport facility.
While the highest responsible bid is not the only factor in determining the eventual contract winner, it is certainly an important factor—along with experience. According to a source that wishes to remain anonymous at this time, experience is indeed critical for a fixed base operator, especially when dealing with environmental and other government agencies. The source asserted that airport administration-recommended Aviation Technologies possesses no FBO experience. Comment from Aviation Technologies was not forthcoming at the time of printing.
Saker Aviation, however, filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County on July 31 contending a breach of contract, and seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against both Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties (doing business as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport), prohibiting them from awarding the FBO lease to Aviation Technologies, Inc. Originally assigned to be adjudicated by Judge Vito P. Geroulo, the hearing was continued until August 14 pending reassignment to another judge.
Luzerne County Manager Lawton told the Gazette, “Questions being posed by the [paper] have certainly given me pause on this matter, and at this point I will not vote to approve any contract until reviewing the evaluations and recommendations made by airport staff.”
Airport board Chairman McGinley said he will be asking the airport solicitor for an opinion on whether or not suppressed proposal information should be made public.
Luzerne County board member Williams commented, “Transparency is paramount to insure public trust, and questions raised by the Gazette help in making informed decisions.” He, too will wait to hear from the solicitor, and urged the public to attend the next airport board meeting. That meeting is scheduled for August 29 at the Terminal Building Conference Room at 10:30 am.
Lackawanna County board members could not be reached for comment by the time of printing.
This is very upsetting. Why can’t the public see the RFPs? After all the corruption in both Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, the commissioners should know better – or is this just more of the same? Who is benefiting from this contract change? What kind of experience does this new company have? I hear this action will result in 34 local jobs lost! I fly out of Avoca Airport often and I’m worried about safety. Why isn’t there more concern from the public? What was the result of the hearing today?
I have the RFP and in the basic qualifications section it states that the qualifications to bid was 3 years in the business of operating a fixed based operation or has provided airline ground handling. I work in the industry and running an FBO is a difficult task in a trying economy. Throwing bags into airplanes is really only a statement Barry Centini Airport Director put into the RFP so he could qualify Aviation Technologies to get the award. The RFP was awarded to the least qualified respondent and I believe was fixed at the get go because I Barry Centini was walking around the PA Aviation Council convention with the owner of Aviation Technoligies a year ago trashing Saker Aviation the company that lost the FBO lease. Also in the RFP there is a clause that says if the Winner of the RFP gets a Sign on Bonus from a fuel supplier that the airport gets no less than 50% of that bonus. Rumor has it that Barry wanted to guide the RFP winner to the fuel company that offered the most cash. The problem with that is this fuel suppliers have to collect that back over time and that is at the expense of all the users of the airport. 1 year ago Allentown took money from a supplier during that rfp and they selected the highest bidder on fuel in return for a 1 million dollar check. Makes you wonder why airlines want to charge so much per ticket out of AVP and ABE these secret payoffs have a lot to do with it. Allentown has suffered great losses as a result of there event. The amount AVP received is rumored to be over $250,000 but I can not confirm this. It was horrible to see a good service provider that had all the qualifications to continue at AVP fall to yet another scandal. This whole process should be exposed. There were several very qualified bidders for this and some actually would have brought additional business to the airport but when they inquired to Barry Centini how the award went to Aviation Technoligies his response was it was a point system that would be disclosed after the contracts were signed. My bet is the contracts were signed with aviation technologies a long time before the RFP went out
Thanks for the insights, Concerned Pilot. You’re welcome to email our editor with any additional information you’re comfortable sharing.