City doesn’t respond to Navy RFP

Published 10:48 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The city of Suffolk never responded to a request for proposals to allow the U.S. Navy to practice carrier landings at its municipal airport.

In a letter to City Council members, City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn said the Navy’s training would cause conflict with businesses at the airport and with businesses and residents nearby.

Proposals were due to the Navy on Friday to provide a training airfield for E-2 and C-2 aircraft. The planes would practice for up to six hours a day for up to 180 days of the year.


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Evelyn Jones, the chair of the city’s airport commission, said the contract would have been a benefit to the city. Several members of the commission arrived at a public hearing on the budget in April to suggest the city respond to the request for proposals.

“They would have paid us a pretty nice penny to come and use our airport,” Jones said. “That money we could have used to make changes to the airport and not had to use the city for money. It just seemed like a very, very profitable thing for the city.”

Jones and Brian Martin, another member of the commission, attended a pre-proposal conference at Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake, along with the airport director, Kent Marshall.

“I got a real good sound of what the engines were like,” Jones said. Though she was standing alongside the runway when the planes were practicing, Jones said, the plane engines were no louder than trucks on the bypass when they apply their air brakes.

“That’s not anything that people should get upset about,” Jones said. “I’m just very disappointed that the city did not put in an application.”

In her letter, the city manager noted the advantages and disadvantages of having the planes training in Suffolk.

“There are some benefits to having such a training site at the Suffolk Executive Airport, but there are also numerous costs,” Cuffee-Glenn wrote. “Staff has examined the benefits, the most likely of which is revenue from the Navy for providing the training site. However, staff has determined that the costs to the city may far exceed any such benefit.”

Cuffee-Glenn continued by saying that the planes would be training for up to six hours per day, up to 180 days of the year, for 10 years. The airport would be closed to general aviation traffic during the training period. The airplanes would be performing practice landings on a simulated aircraft carrier deck every 30 seconds during the training period.

“They will be in flight patterns over the adjacent neighborhoods and businesses for the duration of the training period. The proposed training activities at the airport will also be in direct conflict with Council’s vision to utilize the airport as an economic development tool, soliciting new businesses to the airport.”

Cuffee-Glenn also wrote that it is unknown whether the Federal Aviation Administration and the Virginia Department of Aviation will continue to fund capital improvements projects at the airport if the Navy is training there. Those agencies have provided up to 98 percent of funding for capital projects at the airport in recent years.

“Therefore, it is the recommendation of staff to decline from responding to the Navy’s request for proposal,” Cuffee-Glenn concluded.

Jones said she thought the city should have at least put in an application.

“Putting in the application was only throwing their hat into the pile,” Jones said. “If they got chosen, then the true negotiations would have come in. It wasn’t like what was there in the proposal was the only thing they could do.”

Jones also said the Navy was offering to be flexible with businesses that need to use the airport.

“They were willing to work with the businesses at our airport so that they could get flights in and out as necessary,” Jones said. “If looked like it would be a very, very good deal. We’ve lost out.”