Critics blast Ogden airport; mayor hopes airlines will return
OGDEN — Ogden-Hinckley Airport hangar owners objected during a public hearing this week to the city’s plans to spend $5 million on improvements to the airport terminal building now that Allegiant and Avelo airlines have left Ogden.
But Mayor Mike Caldwell said those funds are from the Federal Aviation Administration, not city coffers, and that he hopes the airlines will return after fuel costs fall.
“We’re going to have some wins and some fails,” Caldwell said. “When aviation fuels hit such enormous dollars, they could not do discount aviation in the way they hoped when they came in. We are optimistic they will come back.”
Hangar owners also sounded off about the airport’s development programs that are forcing out some longtime occupants, while Caldwell defended the efforts and said the city wants the airport to at least break even.
Airport critics’ comments and Caldwell’s responses came Tuesday as the City Council heard and approved the city’s tentative budget for fiscal year 2022-23. One budget item addresses the $5 million airport expansion, proposing to spend $1 million per year over five years.
Ed McKenney, of Eden, president of the Ogden Regional Airport Association, said during the public hearing that expanding the terminal at this point “is like the maître d’ on the Titanic saying they can expand the dining room now that everyone’s in the lifeboats.”
McKenney said it’s “highly unlikely that Ogden will see sustainable airline service because of the pilot shortage, competition from Provo and Salt Lake, and safety issues due to the airport’s proximity to the mountains.”
He said approving the airport budget is “a gross misappropriation of taxpayer funds.” He urged the city to audit the airport’s finances and “quit approving budgets that tell you to expect 17 flights a day.”
McKenney and dozens of others who own or lease hangars at the airport have sued the city in federal court, objecting to an airport master plan approved in 2019 that says hangar owners will no longer receive right of first refusal when their ground leases expire.
The city has begun to demolish some of the oldest hangars and has said hangars older than 40 years will fall under demolition orders when leases expire. City officials say the moves are necessary to make room for more profitable operations. Eviction actions also have begun to be filed against some holders of expired ground leases.
But lawsuit plaintiffs say the actions amount to illegal government takings of hangars and improvements that amount to millions of dollars in some cases.
Sherrie Peterson, of Ogden, said she and her husband considered building a hangar at either Ogden-Hinckley or the Bountiful airport. “We chose Ogden, which wasn’t the right decision,” she said. “So my expensive hangar … We just regret building here.”
Caldwell told the airport users, “I’ve been taking notes and we’ll be talking to our attorneys. I appreciate you coming and expressing yourselves.” He added, “We do want to see the airport be fair and functional and we do want it to be a revenue neutral type of an operation.”
He said his father-in-law owns a hangar at the Ogden airport and at Sunday dinners “I get some of the same questions.”