Top airport officials face federal lawsuit

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - A company that claims it was driven out of the Wilmington International Airport is bringing a federal lawsuit against two top airport officials.

The suit, filed by ISO Aero Service in April 2016, lays out an account of discriminatory practices committed by airport officials-- Airport Director Julie Wilsey, Deputy Director Gary Broughton and the Airport Authority-- the company claims for the sole purpose of putting them out of business, in order to benefit their competitor, Air Wilmington.

Air Wilmington is a general aviation service that has successfully operated at the airport since 1975 and is owned by William "Bill" Cherry.

The lawsuit alleges the practices created a monopoly for Air Wilmington, and the lack of healthy competition has driven up prices for everything from fuel to repair work for private pilots.

Court documents show this isn't the first lawsuit of this kind against airport administration. Jetstream Aero Service, the company Aero Service replaced, leveled similar claims of discriminatory practices after their exodus in 1990. The FAA confirmed the claims, and ILM was given 15 days to come into compliance.

After a 24-year stint, Aero Service was forced to leave the airport in 2014 once the Airport Authority Board voted to boot them off the property when the two sides could not agree on a new lease. Aero Services provided general aviation services to area pilots, just like Air Wilmington, including overseeing hangars and selling fuel.

In order to do their job, the company's fuel trucks needed to travel from their hangar on the south side of ILM, but the suit claims airport officials barred them from doing so for five years, with the explanation that it was due to FAA regulations. The company asserts that violated their lease agreement, which did allow them to travel over roads and taxiways.

Other examples of discriminatory practices listed in the suit include directing airport driving instructors to "make it as hard as possible" for Aero Service employees to pass the course, and making up TSA violations against Aero Service.

The company claims they suffered severe monetary loss as a direct result of the practices.

Aero Service has requested a jury trial and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, along with court costs and attorney's fees.

The latest court documents show the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. We reached out to the FAA to find out if it will launch its own investigation.

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