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.