The owner of Naves Aviation finished clearing his offices at Fulton County Airport last week following the county’s decision to not renew the fixed base operator’s contract.
At a Dec. 3 meeting, the Fulton County Airport Authority (FCAA) Board notified Richard Naves he had 30 days to vacate the airport offices and living quarters. Naves’ three-year contract expired last August, and was denied renewal in November following board discussions with Fulton County commissioners.
Acting Airport Authority Board president Harold Stickley said the board and the company parted amicably after it was determined the two sides had separate visions for the airport. He said the board members also agreed they wanted better service for airport clientele than they thought Naves provided.
“Rich and (his wife) Rachel wanted to go one way, and the airport board and county commissioners wanted to go another way, so we parted ways,” Stickley said.
County Commissioner Jeff Rupp said Naves Aviation did not provide several services required under the contract. He said the business did not take care of or maintain lawn mowing equipment; did not complete simple maintenance on county buildings; caused issues regarding airport cleanliness and presentation; did not staff offices on numerous occasions; and did not return numerous telephone calls, leaving people without information and causing those interested in flying to seek services elsewhere.
“When the contract between the FCAA and Naves Aviation expired last summer, discussions between the FCAA and board of commissioners started as to how the situation could be changed,” Rupp said. “Based on those discussions, the FCAA decided at the beginning of December not to renew their contract with Naves Aviation.”
The business ceased operation at the airport Dec 28.
Airport board member Michael Bryan declined to comment.
Naves said the abrupt 30-day notice was jolting, and he wasn’t told why his business was sent packing. He said the decision was all the more unexpected after Rupp assured him about a year ago there was no reason not to renew the contract.
“We were shocked to get 30 days notice, kind of thrown back,” Naves said. “We were kind of surprised at the abruptness.”
Between the contract’s expiration in August and the airport board’s meeting in December, the contract was never addressed, Naves said.
He said the board agreed to give him 60 additional days to vacate his airport residence after he told them he had sold his home in Whitehouse to move there.
He said a clause in the contract gave both him and the airport board the right to give six months notice if either were unhappy with the relationship. He said the airport board never used the option, and that Rupp had told him Naves Aviation was performing well.
The airport’s fix based operator manages and maintains the facility and claims the rights to all concessions, such as fuel sales, aircraft maintenance, and flight training. During his time at the airport, Naves oversaw an improvement in fuel maintenance and the repair of aging runway lights, and suggested the upgrade the airport board made to the business lobby.
Naves Aviation also co-hosted an annual flyover event for county residents with the Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District, and last summer hosted a benefit for Brady Chapa, a local youth fighting cancer.
Naves said investments in the business included $110,000 to purchase a 2011 Czech Sport Cruiser used for plane rentals and approximately $60,000 in tools for service and aircraft.
“I definitely would have made different choices on the investments if I knew we weren’t going to be here long-term,” he said.
He said the business was a 24/7 operation, and more than once he accommodated overnight fliers, most notably Life Flight.
Naves believes his dismissal may have been the result of changes on the airport board after he was established. It may also have been due to the board’s insistance that the lobby desk be regularly manned.
”They wanted me not just in the shop, they wanted someone sitting at the desk,” Naves said. “They would rather have someone that has no aviation background sitting at the desk.”
Naves said he placed interns behind the desk when he was busy with service and maintenance. He also installed video cameras to keep track of visitors, and an alert button clientele could use when the lobby wasn’t manned.
“(The board) thought someone should just be sitting there, no matter what. That seemed really inefficient,” Naves said. “I wasn’t opposed to that as the service would grow. (But) sometimes, we wouldn’t see anyone come in for three days.”
He said the only complaints he received from the airport board over three years were that some telephone calls were not returned.
Logs showed an average of 75 plane operations monthly, but that number varied. Naves said the aviation business has declined over the years, but “that being said, there was a lot of support here” from clientele.
“We were starting to show positive income, see balances go up. All businesses are like that,” he said. “You build up a foundation of customers, but it takes awhile.”
His relationship with the airport board seemed good until the last few months, when Naves noticed a shift in attitude. “Nothing aggressive, just an uneasy feeling,” he said.
However, Naves still felt blindsided when his contract wasn’t renewed. And disappointed.
“Of course, we always knew it was the county’s facility, but we had a lot of time invested,” he said.
Jerry Stewart, owner of Stewart’s Aviation, was the fixed based operator at Fulton County Airport prior to Naves. Primarily recruited by Rupp, he resigned in 2014, taking the six-month option in his contract not long after the airport board renewed it for five years.
He said the mission of Fulton County Airport, from the board’s standpoint, was not what he was originally told. He said he left and relocated his business to Adrian, Mich., after the board changed its mind about expanding the airport to bring in more commercial traffic.
“They decided not to prioritize that. The whole mission changed over there, and I wasn’t on board with it,” Stewart said. “That airport could be such a boon to the economy if they would consider priorities. But they’re scared to.”
Naves, whose career in aviation extends back to 1981, said he has moved Naves Aviation and his Sport Cruiser aircraft to Swanton, near Toledo Express Airport.
“I was hoping the business would stay here in Fulton County,” he said. “We thought the people were nice. We enjoyed being here, and building a relationship out here, and being part of the community.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.