Braden Airpark closure would break local pilots' hearts
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 15:10

rich-lengel-stands-with-his-plane-that-is-kept-in-a-hanger-at-braden-airparkFor more than 70 years, amateur pilots and hobbyists have flown from Braden Airpark in Forks Township. Children learn to fly there. Scouts sleep overnight there.

All of that will disappear if the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority goes ahead with a recommendation to close Northampton County’s only airport and sell its 80 acres.

Plenty of adolescents who learned to fly at Braden are now professional pilots, according to Jody Pysher, a member of Braden-based Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 70.


“It was one of our last outlets to interest kids that could be a lifetime career, pastime or hobby,” Pysher said. “It’s one thing to sit in a classroom to learn. It’s another thing to put your hands on an airplane.”

The Forks Township group has flown small planes and ultralights since the 1950s. Its 50 registered pilots fear the shutdown of the airport will lead to Chapter 70’s demise.

Airport authority members said pilots can move their aircraft to either Queen City Airport in Allentown or Lehigh Valley International Airport in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. Pysher said he doesn’t know if it’ll be worth the trip from his home in Upper Mount Bethel Township to Lehigh County to fly.

“If I have drive to Queen City — an hour — how much will I do it?” he asked. “The authority is not looking at the real importance of the airport community.”

Forks Township supervisors Chairman Erik Chuss, a pilot with Chapter 70, said fuel and hangar rentals will cost more in Lehigh County. It’s unclear how comfortable pilots of ultralights and gliders would feel shifting from a rural field to an international airport.
The airport authority last week postponed a vote on the recommendation by Lehigh Valley International staff to close Braden. The authority has to pay off a $16 million court-ordered debt by 2015 and while authority members are yet to say how much they can get for Braden, several sources said less than $1 million.

Maurice Heller, a pilot with Chapter 70 and a Nazareth Area school board member, estimated $1.4 million in tax dollars went into improvements at Braden Airpark so state police could refuel emergency helicopters.

"If Braden is closed and sold, those improvements will be bulldozed and the taxpayers’ money squandered," Heller said.

Keeping the airport open, though, would also require $455,000 in immediate building updates and equipment, as well as a $2.2 million capital investment over the next five years, according to airport authority officials.

Lehigh Valley International Airport Executive Director Charles Everett projects a loss from the operation of Braden by year’s end.

“The airport authority does not have the funds available to progress the necessary capital improvements,” Everett said, adding there are no pending offers to purchase Braden Airpark.

The airport had been run by Moyer Aviation, but when the airport authority refused to go beyond a month-to-month lease, Moyer left for Pocono Mountain Municipal Airport. That left a void for youngsters attending Moyer Aero Camp, which taught basic foundations and physics of flying and how to operate an aircraft.

About 300 to 400 youngsters take part in various Young Eagles programs each year, and those events are in jeopardy with the airport’s pending closure. There’s an annual fly-in for pilots. A radio-controlled airplane show draws hundreds of spectators annually, according to Chapter 70 secretary Richard Lengel.

“It would no longer exist at Braden,” Lengel said.

Each September, about 100 local boy scouts camp out under the stars at Braden. Those children would have to go to Lehigh County to fulfill badge requirements instead of in their own back yard, if the airports even allow them.

Lengel would miss the group’s pavilion, where they meet and hold breakfasts for families to eat and watch the planes take off. The area will never be the same, he said.

“We share our interest in aviation with the public,” Lengel said. “So, because the LNAA made a terrible error in operating their business, we must pay for it by losing something we love.”

(www.lehighvalleylive.com)

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