Carrie Rengers

‘Showdown’ at Airport Advisory Board meeting may be followed by a lawsuit

Midwest Corporate Aviation owner Barbara Autry says she welcomes Dwayne Clemens and his Clemens Aviation to Jabara Airport, but not as a fixed-base operator on her side of the airport.
Midwest Corporate Aviation owner Barbara Autry says she welcomes Dwayne Clemens and his Clemens Aviation to Jabara Airport, but not as a fixed-base operator on her side of the airport. Courtesy photo

Midwest Corporate Aviation owner Barbara Autry says she doesn’t want to file a lawsuit against the city, director of airports Victor White or Clemens Aviation, but on Monday her lawyers put everyone at the Wichita Airport Advisory Board meeting on notice that she’s prepared to do it.

“Whew, man, it was a showdown,” says Dwayne Clemens, who owns Clemens Aviation and Stearman Field/Benton Airport.

“I must do what I must do to protect the integrity of Colonel James Jabara Airport and the future of Midwest Corporate Aviation,” Autry says.

The city of Wichita owns Jabara, and the advisory board offers recommendations on its operations.

Autry’s late husband, Marvin, founded their company in 1973 as the only fixed-based operator at Jabara. She joined in 1980. The company provides hangar space, fuel and other services to corporate and privately owned aircraft in nine hangars with more than 120,000 square feet on the west side of the airport.

At issue is the city’s negotiations with Clemens Aviation as a potential second fixed-base operator. Specifically, Autry says the problem is where it would be located at the airport.

Her lawyers created a petition over it but have not yet filed it in Sedgwick County District Court.

At the Airport Advisory Board meeting, Autry’s legal team distributed the petition to board members.

“You ever watch ‘Law and Order?’ ” Clemens says. “I was shocked.”

He says the lawyers weren’t timid in how they approached board members.

“I kind of felt bad for those guys ’cause they got the riot act.”

City spokeswoman Elyse Mohler confirmed the board “received proposed legal documents.”

“The Board has directed staff to review the documents and report back at its March meeting,” Mohler wrote in an e-mail.

Mohler declined further comment as did director of airports Victor White.

The conflict with Clemens dates to 2017 when Autry says she informed White that she was ready to build a new hangar north of her property — a plan she and her husband initially had approval for in 2008 before the economy crashed.

Autry says White told her Clemens was interested in that property as well and that there needed to be a formal request for proposals.

“I abided by that,” Autry says.

She says she spent more than $50,000 on her proposal and ended up being the only bidder.

“For whatever reason, Clemens . . . dropped out of that,” Autry says. She says she then learned that airport officials “immediately began negotiating with Clemens Aviation to build elsewhere on the airport.”

“It’s becoming even more apparent how much has been going on behind my back,” she says.

Autry says the airport’s master plan says a new fixed-base operator can locate only on the east side of the airport. Currently, that area is undeveloped.

Clemens wants a 67,000-square-foot building in the corporate area in the south part of the west side. That’s where owners of private aircraft have their own hangars, although Midwest Corproate Aviation still provides them fuel.

“An FBO is not supposed to be based or located in the corporate area,” Autry says. “It’s not in the master plan.”

Clemens says “the master plan means nothing.”

“It was just a plan of growth for the airport.”

He says according to the FAA, “You cannot discriminate or create a monopoly to where only one business has access to the airport. It’s a law.”

Clemens says Autry doesn’t currently have any competition, nor does she want any.

“That just freaks her out.”

Clemens has a fixed-base operation at Stearman along with a fleet of 20 fractional jets that allow people to share ownership of planes.

“We need to grow to a bigger airport,” he says. “Ninety percent of my clientele is within four miles of Jabara Airport.”

Clemens is already a client there, too — of Autry’s.

“I’ve been their base customer for 16 years. I have two jets over there.”

Although Clemens says having two FBOs at one airport is “like putting a QuikTrip next to a Casey’s,” he says he’s not looking to take Autry’s customers.

“We don’t want to hurt her or compete or anything. Our problem is we’re fully maxed out at our airport.”

Autry says she requested a meeting with Clemens last fall.

“He snubbed me because I won’t sell him my company, and that’s it in a nutshell.”

Clemens says representatives from Autry’s company approached him about selling on a couple of occasions but then wouldn’t share financial information and then said they wouldn’t sell.

Autry says she gave Clemens a proposal to work together but he wouldn’t agree to it without first right of refusal to buy her company.

She says that Clemens locating anywhere other than the other side of the runway from her will affect “my millions of dollars of commitment,” including the money she’s already invested, is investing with two new 18,000-square-foot hangars and money she plans to invest.

“We have played by the rules of the master plan from the beginning, so that’s all I’m asking,” she says. “If someone’s going to come to the airport, then to me it needs to adhere to the master plan, and it needs to be transparent.”

Clemens says the potential suit is “no big deal.”

“She has no grounds, so I don’t care.”

He says he and his family are “simple country folks and just like to get along and run a good business.”

Autry agrees about getting along.

“I will help him be successful at Jabara, and I will work together with him.”

She says his planes “can be based at Jabara by May 1” if he’d worked with her.

Autry says she’s made concessions and would like to see her potential rival do the same.

“The best thing for Jabara Airport is if Dwayne Clemens would work with Barbara Autry.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.