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Gary Jet Center claims airport deal gives competitor unfair advantage

Updated: February 9, 2014 6:35AM



Gary Jet Center is requesting a preliminary injunction that would block its competitor, B. Coleman Aviation, from selling jet fuel at Gary/Chicago International Airport until B. Coleman can comply with federal and local regulations.

Gary Jet Center sued the Gary Airport Authority a month ago in U.S. District Court in Hammond, claiming a waiver the board gave to East Lake Management, which operates B. Coleman, violates Gary Jet Center’s constitutional right to equal protection by giving B. Coleman advantages that Gary Jet Center does not have. The company filed Monday for the preliminary injunction against the waiver.

The authority board voted last summer to let East Lake lease one existing hangar and to lease land to build two more hangers. The authority also reached a deal with East Lake for B. Coleman to take over management of the airport’s 60 smaller “T-hangars,” with B. Coleman keeping 20 percent of the revenue from those hangars.

The agreement, according to the lawsuit, allowed B. Coleman to start operating as a full-service company, called a fixed-base operator, that can sell fuel to airplanes and provide mechanics. It also gave the company nine months to meet certain regulations, required by federal law, such as having 35,000 gallons of fuel on hand in above-ground storage and having a building with at least 10,000 square feet of space.

B. Coleman currently operates from two double-wide trailers, does not have the fuel on hand and does not have a Federal Aviation Administration-certified mechanic, according to the motion filed by Gary Jet Center.

Along with giving B. Coleman a waiver from these regulations, Gary Jet Center, in its motion, says the airport authority has given B. Coleman other preferential treatment such as not having to pay certain fees or not forcing its customers to pay certain fees, all of which Gary Jet Center has to do.

The motion says Gary Jet Center has already lost one customer, who owns two planes, to B. Coleman because of this preferential treatment.

“While Gary Jet Center is not afraid of competition, it wants that competition to occur on a level playing field,” Wil Davis, president of Gary Jet Center, says in an affidavit attached to the motion.

Gary Jet Center notes in its filings that the airport had to make numerous assurances to the federal government in order to get funding, one of which says all fixed-base operators must be subject to the same rates, fees and other charges.

“The gist of this grant assurance is that (an airport) must refrain from providing an uneven playing field for those businesses that require the use of the airport for their survival,” another assurance says.

Gary Jet Center says the airport’s waiver to B. Coleman violates its lease with Gary Jet Center, in which it promises to uphold its assurances to the federal government, and Gary Jet Center’s constitutional right to equal protection.

Lee Lane, attorney for the airport authority, said she had no comment on the lawsuit and motion, which are still new to the authority. Lee, who is new in her position, also said she could not comment on any agreements between the authority and East Lake.

A representative for East Lake said the company had no comment because it is not a party to the lawsuit.

Ben Toles, general manager of B. Coleman, said the company has followed all rules required by the authority.

“B. Coleman is not going anywhere,” he said.

Gary Jet Center has asked for a hearing on its motion for an emergency injunction.



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