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FIRM'S CLAIM THAT NFTA PROTECTS RIVAL'S AIRPORT MONOPOLY IS REJECTED BY FAA

The Federal Aviation Administration's regional office has tossed out a complaint by two brothers who claim the NFTA has stonewalled their attempt to open an aircraft maintenance business at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

The FAA said the authority has not violated federal law.

Dean M. and Daniel Drew had complained to the FAA that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority had heaped unfair demands on their business, Buffalo Jet Center, during 18 months of negotiations. They alleged the authority was protecting a monopoly at the airport held by Prior Aviation.

The FAA not only rejected the brothers' claim, saying the NFTA has acted properly in reviewing their business proposal, but also hinted their request for FAA intervention was inappropriate.

"The (FAA process) . . . is not intended as a device to promote the private interests of a party in commercial negotiations," said David L. Bennett, director of airport safety and standards.

The Drews complained the NFTA didn't want a second fixed-base operator at the airport because Prior Aviation, which has had a monopoly at the airport for 13 years, has close ties to the authority.

Federal law requires that any airport that receives FAA funding cannot give exclusive rights to any fixed-base operator -- a business that provides maintenance, refueling and storage services to aircraft owners.

The NFTA said the original Buffalo Jet Center request was unfair to Prior because the brothers intended to lease space for their business at a vacant Sierra Research hangar, while Prior was required to build its own facilities.

Prior Aviation was opened by Jack B. Prior in 1961. Reginald B. Newman III, president of NOCO Energy Corp., and his brother, Donald F. Newman, NOCO chairman, are now majority shareholders of the company.

The FAA ruling said the NFTA's objection to the Drews' plan to operate Buffalo Jet Center in leased space was appropriate criticism.

"Buffalo Jet Center would have the unfair advantage of not having to make a comparable investment that was required of Prior in its 1969 agreement with the NFTA," the FAA official said.

The authority has made a counterproposal to the brothers that would allow them to operate in the leased space for three years while a new facility is built.

Daniel Drew said the brothers plan to appeal the FAA ruling. At the same time, however, he said they were working to meet the demand contained in an NFTA counterproposal that requires them to eventually build a new hangar.

They have developed plans for a $3 million project that would be located on the north side of the airport, the area reserved for general aviation activities. It would include a 150- by 200-foot maintenance hangar attached to a two-story, 6,000-square-foot office area.

"We're prepared to go ahead if that's what it takes," Daniel Drew said. "We're not going to go away."

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