Minutes after the Manassas Regional Airport Commission voted to recommend the approval of a lease proposal from a Florida-based flight school for the airport's terminal, a local pilot protested that the airport manager had denied him the opportunity to occupy the same space and demanded that the manager be forced to resign.
Geoff Peterson, owner of Manassas-based Rising Phoenix Aviation, told the commission at its monthly meeting Tuesday that he has been trying for more than a year to move his 10-month-old business to the airport's terminal building, but that airport manager Bruce Lawson has ignored his repeated requests to present his proposal to the commission.
Lawson responded that Peterson's request was "vague as to what his business intentions were." Nonetheless, the commission's executive committee will meet Tuesday morning to hear Peterson's case.
The commission's recommendation to lease two rooms in the terminal to Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) for $16,756 annually for two years will be considered Monday by the Manassas City Council, which makes the final decision on all airport leases.
Even if the council approves the ATP deal, Peterson said he is looking forward to the executive meeting to get his proposal heard.
"I'm not against ATP; I just think it was wrong how I wasn't even considered," he said. "I've been denied without proper review."
The recommendation prompted Peterson to ask airport commission members to seek Lawson's resignation, as Lawson exhibited discrimination against his smaller company, Peterson said.
While neither Lawson nor commission members commented on Peterson's request to oust Lawson, commission member Woody Merchant asked for a complete file of the documentation of correspondence between the airport manager and pilot, saying the "allegations here are widespread enough and should be looked into."
Peterson, who has been a flight instructor for nine years, said his local company, though new, is financially healthy. Boasting a 30 percent profit margin for its first six months, Peterson said he "clearly knows how to run a business" and will "pay my rent on time and still make money, if that's what they're worried about."
But Lawson said that doesn't worry him at all--it is the allegations Peterson has made that concern him.
"I was clearly surprised," Lawson said. "Mr. Peterson submitted one letter to me about leasing the space. Then we met for about an hour and we talked about what I needed from him for the proposal and I never heard back from him."
And, Lawson said, Peterson said he was interested in leasing space for his flight school and for his 70-member nonprofit organization, Capital Area Flying Association, Inc. "I'm just not sure if he wants to have a commercial entity or a nonprofit in there," he said.
Meanwhile, ATP, which has 15 locations nationwide, including one in Richmond, has been operating in Manassas since earlier this month. If approved, the Florida company, which specializes in accelerated flight training, would pay $12 per square foot for the space, which Lawson said is the average rate of Grade A commercial space in the area.
Working alongside ATP would benefit Rising Phoenix, Peterson said, adding that he doesn't see the company as competition. "I think we could feed off each other. I would send a lot of students their way."
Further, Peterson said, for his company to establish itself as a "legitimate flight school" and expand, it needs to be based at the airport.
"That's the place to be to get more customers," he said. "I think you could have five flight schools there and all would be busy. There's a demand for this. People want to learn to fly because it's exciting and fun. And I just want my chance to teach students, too."