HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Lehigh County, Pa. - A group of pilots that wants to save Braden Airpark in Northampton County has until October to achieve its goal.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority rejected a plan that would have seen Braden closed by Oct. 19 and the land sold.
Instead, the authority backed a measure to appoint a committee that will spend the next six months examining options for the future of the small Forks Township airport.
According to airport officials, closing Braden would be the least painful of five options on a list that also included selling the airport to another operator, leasing it, and maintaining it. Even selling the land and shutting down the airport would mean a $1.4 million loss of cash flow over the next five years.
"In every scenario, we lose money," said authority member and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who made the motion to form the committee. "The goal has to be to figure out some break-even goal, at least."
Closing the airport would be like "making a decision on a one-sided coin," said Eddie Lozano, a member of the Save Braden group, arguing that the authority didn't yet have enough information.
Speaking after the meeting, he said his group was hopeful the committee would be objective in its negotiations.
"If we have good faith negotiations, this won't take six months," Lozano said. "If we don't, this could take years."
Airport officials say Braden may not have years, with their figures showing an estimated $250,000 annual shortfall at the 72-acre airpark.
Executive Director Charles Everett, Jr. said Braden also needs $500,000 in capital improvements.
Save Braden's Robert Brown had told the authority his group was offering to pay $1.6 million to purchase the airport, but the authority has asked for more than double that amount.
Brown and other members of the coalition argued that closing Braden would actually cost the authority more than it would save. It would need to rezone the airport and possibly prepare the land for another use, and immediately repay millions of debt upon sale.
If the authority is bleeding money now, "the closure of Braden will result in the hemorrhaging of money," Brown said.
The authority, which also operates the Queen City Airport in Allentown and Lehigh Valley International, began looking at closing Braden last year as it tried to find ways to pay off a $16 million court settlement.
Since then, it has given supporters of Braden two previous extensions before making a decision.