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Experimental Aircraft Association in lawsuit with airport board over Felts Field eviction

UPDATED: Sun., Oct. 7, 2018

Friends, fellow pilots and members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter look up as a flyover of biplanes passes overhead at Felts Field Friday, May 10, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Friends, fellow pilots and members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter look up as a flyover of biplanes passes overhead at Felts Field Friday, May 10, 2013. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The Experimental Aircraft Association is embroiled in a lawsuit with the Spokane Airport Board, alleging their organization was wrongfully evicted from a hangar at Felts Field.

The nonprofit organization, which had leased the hangar since 2011, received notice of lease termination from the airport board last November. The airport is demolishing the building to construct a $5-million, 21,000-square-foot hangar to house the Historic Flight Foundation’s collection of rare aircraft from the 1920s to the 1950s.

EAA, which had a 5-year lease with the airport through 2021, was initially given until May to vacate, but the notice was extended on a month-to-month basis by the airport through Aug. 17.

EAA member and former Spokane chapter president Jack Hohner said the organization met with Spokane Airports CEO Larry Krauter to discuss relocating to a different, 7,000-square-foot hangar by the end of August, with a one-year lease.

“We said the lease would have to be approved by our entire membership. They told us we could move into building 17 on a month-to-month basis until the new lease was resolved, and we had time to take it to the membership to negotiate better terms,” Hohner said.

The airport board wrote to the EAA, in a letter dated July 17, that the current tenant of building 17 would vacate by Aug. 31 and the west side of the hangar would be vacant prior to that date.

“This will allow EAA to store its personal property in the building until the tenant has vacated the entire building,” the letter said.

Hohner said the airport board gave EAA until Aug. 20 to move its belongings.

“We were starting to pack up and move,” he said. “We asked when we would get the keys to building 17. We kept waiting for the keys and they never showed up, and we had no place to move to.”

On August 20, the Spokane Airport Board filed in Spokane County Superior Court to evict EAA from the hangar, stating it was exercising its contractual right to terminate the lease with 180 days advance written notice, which is indicated in the agreement.

EAA claims the airport board didn’t follow through with its promise to relocate the organization to a substitute hangar and was surprised to receive an eviction notice.

“We were shellshocked,” Hohner said. “We thought we’d all be moved into building 17.”

Brian Werst, attorney for the Spokane Airport Board, said in an email that because EAA didn’t vacate the hangar, it forced the airport to file the unlawful detainer, unless the organization could post a $230,000 bond, which it failed to do.

“As a result, EAA vacated the hangar, leaving behind numerous items and property. The Airport stored EAA’s remaining property in two 8-by-20-foot storage containers until EAA advised the airport could dispose of the remaining property,” he said. “The matter is currently being litigated regarding the interpretation of the lease and the recovery of damages incurred by the Airport due to EAA’s refusal to vacate the hangar. We cannot further comment on matters that are part of the pending litigation.”

Attorney Robert Dunn of Dunn & Black, P.S., who is representing EAA, filed a response and counterclaim in Superior Court on Sept. 28, stating the airport board is in breach of the lease agreement in prematurely canceling the lease and refusing to relocate EAA to a substitute facility, as agreed upon in the lease agreement if displacement was caused by expansion at Felts Field.

The countersuit alleges the airport board is relying on “cherry-picked language” from a portion of the lease that states either party may cancel the agreement with 180 days advance notice. EAA claims the lease is subject only to cancellation under grounds listed such as bankruptcy, default on lease payments or failing to abide by building maintenance and upkeep requirements.

In 2007, Spokane Airways filed a similar lawsuit against Spokane International Airport, claiming it was forced to vacate six of nine buildings it occupied at the west end of the airport without receiving payment to relocate or a replacement building, which was required under its lease agreement. The airport board settled for more than $1.8 million with Spokane Airways in 2010.

The future of EAA, with more than 150 members in Spokane, is now up in the air, with a court date set for mid-October and no immediate plans to relocate to another airport.

“It is difficult to plan for the future if you are being sued,” Hohner said. “It’s very difficult to replace what we had, and very difficult to substitute what we were promised.”

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