Hearing set for controversial Winter Haven Municipal Airport changes

Airport director Leo treggi. Photo: J.R. Hafer

Airport Director Leo Treggi.
Photo: J.R. Hafer

Winter Haven, Florida. Change is on the way relating to policies and procedures at Winter Haven Municipal Airport (Gilbert Field / KGIF). Some will undoubtedly be beneficial but others may be somewhat unwelcome according to current customers, aircraft owners, maintenance personnel and businesses operating on or adjacent to Gilbert Field. The Airport Advisory Committee will entertain comments from the public on July 9, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. in the Airport Terminal Conference Room.

Entrance sign to GIF. Photo: J.R. Hafer

Entrance sign to GIF.
Photo: J.R. Hafer

On 25 June J.R. Hafer, publisher of 20th Century Aviation Magazine, met with Airport Director Leo Treggi. One subject discussed was the proposed initiatives, which were first composed by Mr. Treggi when he was previously employed at the airport in Leesburg. Airport Director Treggi kindly and graciously responded to all questions put to him.

The language contained in the pages of the drafts state that the enumerated changes are necessary for public safety and to make the airport revenue producing. However, critics are afraid that new space and other requirements would, based upon vague or missing language within the circulating documents, cause businesses such as fixed base operator HOVA and organizations such as the Winter Haven Pilots Association, which had a serious previous dispute with city officials related to rental rates, Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 229, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and Civil Air Patrol Polk Composite Squadron to be in violation and conceivably put them in untenable circumstances. Mr. Treggi said, “That would not be the case.”

A Cessna 150 rotates from KGIF. Staff photo.

A Cessna 150 rotates from KGIF.
Staff photo.

One project underway and approved by the Airport Advisory Committee and city officials is the establishment of a seaplane base off runway 29. World-renown Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, Winter Haven’s second oldest extant enterprise, is located on the west side of the airfield on Lake Jessie. The venerable flying training center has trained thousands of aviators for more than 53 years, and a number of locals view, justifiably or not, the construction of the proposed seaplane base as a veiled attempt by the city and / or influential groups to challenge Brown’s operation. A query often heard is why spend and essentially gamble with taxpayer dollars in duplicating or competing directly or indirectly  with an existing legacy business?

Mr. Treggi confirmed that a new seaplane base was indeed in the works and that the Winter Haven Seaplane Pilots Association (WHSPA) had already been awarded the lease to the property. In response to a question pertaining to perceived city-sponsored competition with Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base, Treggi stated, “The new seaplane base will not compete with Brown’s because WHSPA plans to bring in larger seaplanes.” He added, in reference to WHSPA holding the future lease, “Anyone who wishes to do business on the airport cannot be refused because it is publicly owned.”

Yet, Mr. Treggi did confirm that independent, federally-licensed Airframe & Powerplant (A&P) mechanics and those technicians who hold an Inspection Authorization (A&P/IA) would in fact be barred from working on any airplanes they do not own unless the mechanic has met ‘minimum standards’ (obtained a city-issued permit, required insurance coverage, own a registered business, etc.) set by the city.”

For purposes of clarification and confirmation a hypothetical situation was then presented to the Airport Director: If an A&P owned an aircraft and rented a hangar and another owner on the airport asked the A&P to work on or inspect his or her airplane would the A&P be permitted to offer aid?” Mr. Treggi said, “An owner may work on his or her own aircraft, but no else one can do work at the airport unless they meet the minimum standards. This is how it is at all airports.”

One paragraph in the proposals references the imposition of fees. Pilots and aircraft owners are understandably concerned that under the new guidelines landing and other fees may eventually be charged in an attempt to increase income and partially offset continued loses.

Airport terminal. Staff photo.

Airport terminal.
Staff photo.

Apparently, part of the general tenant resistance emanates from the fact that in recent years city government officials have authorized questionable expenditures related to infrastructure improvements. Two examples are the beautiful new Airport Terminal, which was constructed a few years ago and finished at a cost that greatly exceeded the original estimated construction price tag, and the expensive public access walkway that crosses above Havendale Boulevard and is, based upon daily observations of detractors, very rarely used.

Pedestrian bridge over Havendale Boulevard. Staff photo.

Pedestrian bridge over Havendale Boulevard.
Staff photo.

Some tout these aesthetically pleasing structures as community beautification and improvements, while others point to them as unwarranted, unneeded and financially irresponsible expenditures of public funds.

Notably, Airport Director Treggi reported that a control tower is not under consideration.

Note that after the interview  20th Century Aviation Magazine learned from external and reliable sources that HOVA received a lease termination notification issued by the municipality this morning. HOVA will cease services no later that August 31, 2015.

As referenced above, a meeting of the Airport Advisory Committee  will be held on July 9 at 3:00 p.m. in the Airport Terminal Conference Room at 2073 Highway 92, West. Citizens and potentially affected persons may attend to voice their support or opposition to the published proposals. Alternatively, interested persons may contact municipal officials. In fact, Mr. Treggi urges anyone with questions or concerns to contact him. He may be contacted directly at (863) 298-4551 or through his e-mail (ltreggi@mywinterhaven.com) address.

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20th Century Aviation Magazine thanks Leo Traggi for granting an interview and his cooperation.

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