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EXECUJET SUING NFTA TO REGAIN FALLS AIRPORT ROLE

Execujet Aviation Services, evicted as Niagara Falls International Airport's fixed base operator earlier this month, is trying to get the role back through the courts.

Vincent A. Tobia, the company's attorney, said a lawsuit was filed June 16 seeking a permanent injunction against removing Execujet and charging alleged fraud by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which owns the airport. That was three weeks before Execujet was dismissed.

But NFTA counsel Ruth A. Keating said State Supreme Court Justice Eugene M. Fahey allowed the eviction after hearing testimony June 23 from Execujet president Gary Ondrey "because the judge agreed with the NFTA." However, the suit itself was not thrown out.

A letter from Ralph E. Napolitano, the NFTA's airport manager, to the Niagara County Legislature, released at last week's Legislature session, said Execujet had been fired because it failed to pay its rent and didn't build a promised $1.1 million hangar. The letter made no mention of a lawsuit.

Tobia said Execujet is seeking reform of its March 1996 contract with the NFTA, which called for it to handle aircraft fueling, maintenance, and other services. He said Execujet's bid for the contract was based on false claims the authority made about the level of traffic at the airport, resulting in inflated rent.

"We say they were completely false and overstated . . . by 100 percent," Tobia charged.

Execujet had to agree to pay rent based on several categories of revenue, such as fuel sales, landing fees, hangar fees, plane maintenance, and ground handling.

Ms. Keating said the traffic statistics in the request for proposals were Federal Aviation Administration figures. She said the NFTA's own business records were used for items such as fuel sales and aircraft maintenance.

Execujet paid either a percentage of the revenue or a guaranteed minimum, whichever was greater. Tobia claimed all the rent was current except for that derived from ground handling.

"That is absolutely not true," Ms. Keating declared. She said Justice Fahey ordered Execujet to pay rent that was in arrears, and charged that the June check, for $13,447.29, bounced.

As for the unbuilt hangar, Ms. Keating said Execujet breached its contract. The firm "didn't comply with the capital investment provisions of the contract," she said.

Tobia said that a bank pulled the plug on a financing deal two days before it was to close. He said the bank questioned whether there was enough business at the airport to enable Execujet to make the mortgage payments on the hangar.

Tobia said the lawsuit is in the discovery stage, but Ms. Keating said she was not aware of any discovery motion. Tobia said besides reinstatement, Execujet is seeking monetary damages. Ms. Keating said that was news to her.

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