Million Air: Mislead the Public, Collect $1 Million

Million Air, an aircraft charter business and Fixed Base Operator at Westchester County Airport (“HPN”), is seeking $1 million in state subsidies for their expansion. A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, August 13, from 10:00 am-11:00 am, at Harrison Town Hall (1 Heineman Place, Harrison NY 10528). Please attend and speak at the public hearing. Written comments may be sent to Eric Warren, Senior Project Manager, Empire State Development Corporation ([email protected]).

On May 16, 2016, Westchester County approved a new lease for Million Air that lifted limits on the size of aircraft they may operate or serve and approved the construction of a 52,000 square foot hangar and a 26,200 square foot terminal. Million Air received $80 million in tax-exempt financing from Westchester County to build their facility, but that isn’t enough taxpayer subsidy for their private jets. Last year, they sued the Town of Harrison and successfully argued that they are exempt from local property taxes. They are now going before the NY Empire State Development Corporation to seek a $1 million public grant to help pay for their facility.

When Westchester County approved the new lease, it declined to conduct a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment. Instead, it adopted with no evidence a declaration that the project would have no significant environmental impact. The state agency is planning to adopt this finding of no significant environmental impact in handing Million Air $1 million of taxpayer money.

Million Air is creating monetary costs and environmental impacts throughout Westchester County. By providing a base for both their own and others’ private jets, they create and enable air, water, and noise pollution that harms our quality of life and reduces our property values. They forced the Town of Harrison and the Harrison School District to pay them back over $1 million in property taxes. They don’t even pay for the Purchase Fire Department, which they rely on to provide fire protection for their buildings.

We will not condone bad neighbors who care nothing for our community. We certainly will not condone giving them $1 million of taxpayer money to expand their ability to run roughshod over residents.

We demand an in-depth environmental impact study that includes the secondary impacts of increases in the size and quantity of air traffic. We will point out the ridiculous claim on page 6, section IV (2) that the subsidy is necessary to make the new hangar competitive with a project in Texas. While we would certainly like to see Million Air build their hangar in Texas instead, it seems unlikely that it would then serve much of a purpose for traveling to New York.

Really? You can build a hangar in Texas to travel to New York?

No environmental impact?

The county’s original declaration of no significant environmental impact is baffling. At a minimum, the heating and cooling load created by an additional 78,200 square feet of climate controlled space would create significant new air pollution in our community, which already fails to meet EPA standards for air quality. The facility would also likely increase private jet traffic and the attendant air, noise, and water pollution. New large aircraft based at Million Air’s hangar would bring with them increased pollution. Additionally, increased capacity would likely attract private jet traffic from Teterboro (TEB) since HPN is an alternative for access to New York City. This is a real threat as TEB is highly congested and HPN traffic would double if all TEB traffic came here instead.

From Million Air’s advertising

Indeed, Million Air advertises “convenient access to New York City” and “unlike TEB, you don’t spend your time and fuel on a taxiway, airfield congestion or approach.” They demonstrate utter contempt for our voluntary curfew by advertising “24-hour access” despite promising to promote and respect the curfew in their lease. Why did the county not even bother to study what might happen if they ignored past resolutions not to expand airport capacity to allow the construction of a giant new hangar?

Million Air CEO Roger Woolsey’s lobbying may have been responsible. Before the Board of Legislators on May 9, 2016, Mr. Woolsey claimed that their new hangar would decrease the number of flights at HPN. How is this possible? He focused very narrowly on charter aircraft already operated by Million Air, claiming that fewer flights would be required because some of their aircraft flew empty to and from nearby airports to pick up and drop off passengers at HPN. However, Mr. Woolsey conveniently ignored flights that Million Air seeks to attract to HPN from TEB. He also ignored the space made available for new jets to be based at HPN. Million Air makes money by renting out parking space to aircraft. Why would they spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build a 52,000 square foot hangar unless they thought they could rent it out? In testimony before the Westchester Industrial Development Agency on October 6, 2016, Mr. Woolsey said that the new hangar had already been leased to capacity.

New hangars don’t reduce flights, they increase them

It sounds plausible that we could reduce the number of flights by basing aircraft at HPN so that they don’t have to fly in to pick up passengers. But this fails to acknowledge the reality that not all passengers fly to and from HPN. If aircraft are based at HPN but passengers are elsewhere, basing aircraft at HPN will increase flights.

We determined the effect on air traffic of previous hangar leases entered by the county with FlexJet and NetJets. In both cases, new hangar space increased the number of flights. They also increased the proportion of “local flights” that are to or from airports within 40 miles and are thus likely traveling empty to pick up passengers, since that distance could be covered faster by car. This is unsurprising as charter aircraft go where their customers are, with the exception of HPN competing with TEB for NYC based customers.

While Million Air is not the same as FlexJet or NetJets, this data does suggest that their claims that their new hangar reduces flights are highly suspect. It is worth noting that the FlexJet lease is for 30,000 square feet of space and the NetJets lease is for 14,826 square feet of hangar space. The new Million Air hangar is larger than these two hangars combined.

Mislead the public, collect $1 million

What now? Unfortunately, Westchester County’s 30-year lease with Million Air does not hold them accountable to their claims that their new hangar will reduce air traffic. At a minimum, Million Air must prove that their new hangar has reduced air traffic in the 7 months since it opened before they receive $1 million in taxpayer subsidies. Who will hold them accountable? The people of this county will. Stand up and fight back.

 

 

3 thoughts on “Million Air: Mislead the Public, Collect $1 Million

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  1. Unfortunately, I cannot make the meeting on the 13th. Just remember the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” It is unfortunate that the County did not build safeguards in the contract for violations of environmental and quality of life issues. I know that the County needs the revenue to make the airport viable. If we don’t want privatization, they need to find additional sources of revenue to reduce costs to tax payers. This is a very complicated issue.

    Corporations want to make money. They will make all kinds of promises, but when push comes to shove, they will do whatever they needs to in order to make more profit. There is no way that a corporation like Million Air should get a grant to build a hangar. The proposed hangar is way too big, and whatever they build, they should pay for it themselves. They may be using a famous business man’s ploy. Ask for the moon, negotiate, and get as much as you can. This way the public feels like it is not as bad as it could have been.

    GE wanted to build a hangar in the 1990s, and the County Board refused to allow it. I am saddened that the County is now considering such a huge facility for Million Air. I believe that most of the customers for this service do not even live in Westchester, but Westchester residents will bear the brunt of the impact. I know there must be trade-offs to keep the airport operational, but this seems like a very steep price to pay.

    1. If we may correct a few misconceptions in your comment:
      1) The airport makes money. In fact, it has $20 million in its savings account to pursue needed infrastructure or environmental projects. If the airport needs more money, it has the ability to increase revenues by increasing fees on aircraft using the airport, for example. The viability of the airport is not at risk and even if it was, this project would not be necessary to keep it viable.
      2) Million Air’s hangar, has, unfortunately, already been approved and built. The proposed grant would just help them with the bill despite the claim that it is necessary to promote the construction of the project.

  2. Thank you for this excellent article and for all your valuable and important insights!!
    Also thank you for standing for us at the hearing.

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