Scenic flight/instruction company given temporary use of space at North Adams airport

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This story has been modified to clarify that the commission secretary shared with city and airport officials a request for information about the classroom and office space. 

NORTH ADAMS — Alex Kelly has been given the all-clear to move his scenic flight and flight instruction company into a city-owned office space — for now.

The Airport Commission voted Tuesday to temporarily allow him to move Taconic Aviation into the space at the Harriman-and-West Airport, an unexpected compromise made after months of delays.

But while the commission agreed to allow Kelly to use the hangar building's small classroom and office space until the end of June, the three parties vying for the use of the space, including Kelly, will have until the end of May to add to their written business proposals.

The compromise would allow "the commission time to solicit more details about these proposals and ask Mr. Kelly for more information and definitely more information for anybody else that is interested," said member Marc Morandi. The commission did not specify what additional details or information it sought.

The three members of the commission present at Tuesday's meeting voted unanimously to temporarily allow Kelly to use the space. The commission is expected to make a final decision in June.

Taconic Aviation is based in Bennington, Vt., but is without a home this summer as William H. Morse State Airport is closed for renovations. Kelly purchased the assets of Teamflys, a former scenic flight and flight instruction company at Harriman-and-West Airport, and hopes to operate out of the former Shamrock Hangar, which is owned by the city. Airport Commission Chairman Jeffrey Naughton began discussion on Kelly's proposal by suggesting that the matter be tabled until the June meeting because one of the three parties interested in the space, Sue Mead, could not attend Tuesday.

That sparked outcry from Kelly, who repeatedly has seen his request for the space delayed since purchasing Teamflys last year.

Kelly argued that there has been sufficient time for interested parties to make their cases and described the proposed delay as "obstructionist."

"Everyone has had significant notice and time to prepare for this, to submit proposals, to be ready for this," he said. "No one can say this has been a rapid process."

Mead, a student pilot, is heading a group of pilots that is also asking for use of the space. The group would offer services such as helping with the parking of airplanes and pointing arriving pilots to available resources, Mead wrote in a March letter to the Airport Commission.

"Securing space would also provide a room to stow aviation gear and training materials, set up a flight simulator, conduct meetings, and be a conduit for reigniting the camaraderie that has been a long-standing centerpiece of the local aviation community," Mead wrote.

The third interested party was not identified Tuesday, but The Eagle identified the man as Paul Edwards. He has not submitted a written proposal.

Edwards, of Lincoln, wrote the city in January requesting information about the space, such as timing of availability and operational restrictions.

Naughton said Edwards had emailed him to express interest in the space during Naughton's medical leave of absence this winter, but that he did not see the email until Monday, when Edwards resent it.

Commission secretary Tina Samson and airport Manager Willard Greenwald were also copied on the email. Edwards communicated with Samson and Greenwald beginning Feb. 28, but never received the information he was seeking, he wrote in a May 14 email to Naughton.

Samson wrote in an email to Greenwald, city Administrative Officer Michael Canales, and interim commission Chairman Paul Boillat on Feb. 28 a list of the information Edwards sought. But Edwards said he never received the information.

"It has now come to my attention that other individuals who may have interest in the space have been invited to attend and present at the Airport Commission meeting tomorrow evening," Edwards wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Eagle. 

Edwards threatened to report the commission's decision-making process for investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.

Three others had expressed interest in the space but have since withdrawn their proposals.

Kelly highlighted that his is an established business with a letter of permission to operate at Harriman-and-West Airport, while Mead's proposal does not indicate she has an operational business.

"It's a business against a hypothetical legal entity at this point, that doesn't even have a letter of permission to operate, doesn't have a plane, doesn't have a business," Kelly said. "To be a professional, serious process, it has to be a debate among existing players."

Kelly insisted that, one way or another, "I need resolution."

"I have played by the rules at every juncture," he said.

Commission member Dean Bullett reviewed Kelly's proposal and said he was "expecting a little more of what the plan was for the office, what you would do with it."

"I would say the same thing to [Mead]," Bullett said.

When asked to provide a list of what additional information he'd like to see in the written proposals, Bullett said "what functions you really see happening in there."

At one point, there was question as to whether the commission could legally vote on the matter Tuesday.

The meeting agenda only listed "hangar office space update," and did not indicate that a vote would be taken.

Canales suggested that the vote would be in line with the past practice of the commission, which does not always explicitly state that it will take a vote on a matter listed on the agenda.

The meeting exemplified what Kelly and others have felt is an off-the-cuff approach to finding a tenant for the office space by the Airport Commission.

"Unfortunately I'm stuck in this position to continually try to stand up to try to get something done," Kelly said.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6376.


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