Bumped by Trump

Pres­i­dent’s vis­its putting big dent in small air­ports’ busi­ness

Cape Breton Post - - Business - BY DAVID PORTER

Thor Sol­berg’s busi­ness is down - try prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent - at a time when it’s usu­ally way up, and he has Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to thank for it.

Sol­berg’s is one of two small air­ports in western New Jer­sey that are es­sen­tially closed down be­cause of fed­eral avi­a­tion reg­u­la­tions be­cause they are within 10 miles (16 kilo­me­tres) of where Trump is spend­ing 17 days this month at his Bed­min­ster coun­try club. More than a dozen other air­ports also face re­stric­tions.

This is high sea­son for small air­ports that cater to ama­teur fliers and busi­ness clients. But at Sol­berg-Hun­ter­don Air­port, which av­er­ages about 100 com­bined take­offs and land­ings per day, a hand­ful of planes sat idle Mon­day. Nor­mally 70 to 80 planes would be pay­ing to be housed there and pay­ing for fuel and flight train­ing time, Sol­berg said.

“Twenty per cent of our an­nual busi­ness is af­fected by the pres­i­dent’s vis­its in the sum­mer­time be­cause that’s how much of our busi­ness takes place on the week­ends in the sum­mer­time,” Sol­berg said.

Small air­ports and avi­a­tion­re­lated busi­nesses near Trump’s prop­er­ties in Florida and New Jer­sey have lost out on hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in busi­ness al­ready this year. And they have no re­course other than to ap­peal to the Se­cret Ser­vice, which over­sees pres­i­den­tial se­cu­rity.

That proved un­suc­cess­ful for the own­ers of a small Florida air­port that lies within the no-fly zone near Trump’s Mara-Lago re­sort. In March, the Se­cret Ser­vice told the ten­ants of Lan­tana Air­port that air­craft couldn’t take off from the fa­cil­ity, which is about 6 miles (10 kilo­me­tres) south­west of Mara-Lago.

The 28 busi­nesses at the air­port in­clude a flight school and ban­ner op­er­a­tion. They said they were los­ing thou­sands of dol­lars each time Trump vis­ited.

Jonathan Miller, the con­trac­tor who op­er­ates the air­port, told The Associated Press ear­lier this year that a he­li­copter com­pany opted to move else­where rather than deal with the air­port clo­sures, tak­ing an es­ti­mated $440,000 in an­nual rent and fuel pay­ments with it.

Michelle Ed­wards, of­fice man­ager at Palm Beach Flight Train­ing at Lan­tana, said it was es­pe­cially stress­ful in the spring when Trump’s vis­its closed the air­port for three straight week­ends, usu­ally with about two days’ no­tice.

“We have cus­tomers, their first ques­tion when they call is, ‘Am I even go­ing to be able to train there be­cause of Pres­i­dent Trump com­ing down so much?”’ Ed­wards said. “So, we have cus­tomers leav­ing, go­ing else­where and not even start­ing with us be­cause they’re ner­vous about Pres­i­dent Trump com­ing in.”

Sol­berg echoed Ed­wards’ concerns about the po­ten­tially long-last­ing ef­fects of the dis­rup­tion.

“It’s not just the cur­rent rev­enue that’s a prob­lem,” he said, not­ing the air­port is los­ing “tens of thou­sands of dol­lars” this month. “It’s the fact that we’re un­able to get con­tin­u­ous new busi­ness be­cause we’re un­able to pro­vide po­ten­tial cus­tomers with a ser­vice that they can rely on.”

Sev­eral mem­bers of New Jer­sey’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion sent a let­ter to the Se­cret Ser­vice in June urg­ing it to con­sider al­low­ing the air­ports near Trump’s res­i­dence to use a sys­tem sim­i­lar to one in place near Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that al­lows prop­erly screened pi­lots to fly to and from air­ports in a se­cu­rity-sen­si­tive area.

So far, there has been no re­sponse, Re­pub­li­can Rep. Leonard Lance said Mon­day. A Se­cret Ser­vice spokes­woman didn’t re­turn an email seek­ing com­ment.

“We want New Jer­sey to be treated as, ap­par­ently, Mary­land is treated,” Lance said. “I’m hope­ful the Se­cret Ser­vice will ex­am­ine the sit­u­a­tion based on past prece­dents.”

“We have cus­tomers, their first ques­tion when they call is, ‘Am I even go­ing to be able to train there be­cause of Pres­i­dent Trump com­ing down so much? So, we have cus­tomers leav­ing, go­ing else­where and not even start­ing with us be­cause they’re ner­vous about Pres­i­dent Trump com­ing in.”

Michelle Ed­wards, Palm Beach Flight Train­ing

AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG

In this Mon­day photo, Thor Sol­berg talks with re­porters at Sol­berg-Hun­ter­don Air­port, the air­port he par­tially owns, in White­house Sta­tion, N.J.

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