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Private Sky Aviation, which has leased property at Southwest Florida International Airport for more than two decades, filed a lawsuit against its landlord, Lee County Port Authority, over it requesting bids for competition. 

Private Sky said competition would ruin its ability to operate and fulfill its lease as the south Fort Myers airport’s only fixed-based operator, or FBO. The lease doesn’t expire until 2060. 

“Private Sky seeks an injunction to preclude the Authority from developing a second FBO at RSW at this moment in time, at least until the Retail Jet-A fuel volume meets the industry standard threshold to support two FBOs at one airport,” Private Sky’s complaint states. 

Private Sky also alleges the Port Authority has made things personal. 

“The parties’ landlord-tenant relationship has been fruitful for many years …” the complaint said. “Recently, however, turnover at positions of importance within the Authority have challenged this expectation. It appears some of the new guard do not particularly like the principals who own Private Sky and have decided to try to put it out of business so the Authority can take over the facilities.” 

The Board of Lee County Commissioners voted against spending up to $200,000 on the search process for a permanent port authority director and accepted Steve Hennigan as interim director following the resignation of Ben Siegel in April. 

Port Authority Chief Communications and Marketing Officer Vicki Moreland said she and her team weren’t aware of any legal complaint, and that if there was an issue, they would not comment on it. 

Private Sky Chairman and Founder Vincent Wolanin and CEO Victoria Wolanin deferred comment to Tampa-based attorney Paul Thanasides. He declined to be interviewed but wrote in an email he hoped both sides could settle things out of court. 

“No way to know,” Thanasides wrote when asked how long he expected the legal process to take. “We prefer to resolve things amicably. That could happen at any moment or never.” 

Private Sky’s business model sells or subleases hangar and ramp space, lavatory and potable water service, catering, concierge services, rental cars, satellite weather, flight crew management, aircraft inspection and repair and maintenance. 

Former Presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump and President Joe Biden each have flown on Air Force One and arrived and departed RSW via Private Sky’s facilities over the years. 

The other part of profiting comes from fuel service, “including storage, transportation and sale of Phillips 66-branded aviation jet fuel and Avgas to private and commercial users,” the lawsuit said. “The margins on the contract fuel are so low that the line of business loses money to the fuel storage and transport costs. Retail Jet A sales are usually the only profitable type of fuel sales for FBOs.” 

Sales of Jet A fuel at RSW have trended downward from about 1.2 million gallons in 2022 to 902,504 gallons in 2023, a 26% drop in sales, Private Sky’s complaint said. 

“Fuel volume has never reached the 3 million gallon threshold to support a second FBO. This is why Private Sky has been the only FBO at RSW for more than two decades.” 

Aircraft movements at RSW also fell by 32% from 9,161 in 2022 to 6,227 in 2023, the complaint said. 

Private Sky also alleges the Port Authority is violating the “good faith” part of the most recent lease agreement from 2008. 

“As a governmental agency, the Authority likely believes it is immune from claims it defrauded bidders,” the complaint said. “As a bonus, the Authority will be substantially rewarded when its misleading bidding process causes the new FBO to fail. The dire consequences to Private Sky caused by the (request for proposal) for a second FBO at RSW are not side effects of some other goal that the Authority is trying to achieve. The consequences are the goal.”

To view the full complaint, click here.

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