anthony-c-robinson_web.jpgOPA LOCKA — Opa Locka Flightline, the sole, black-owned private, charter-jet service operation  in the U.S., is closing.

“With much regret I must inform you that we will be closing our FBO [fixed based operation] at the Opa-Locka Executive Airport on Wednesday,  March 31, 2010,” revealed Opa Locka Flightline managing partner Anthony “Tony” Robinson in a March 3rd statement. “Most of you are aware that even though our pending litigation against Miami-Dade County and AA Acquisitions (Orion Jet Center) is proceeding through the court system, unfortunately our five-year temporary lease at the airport will expire on April 1, 2010.”
In addition to being the only black-owned charter jet service operation in the country, Flightline is also the only black-owned business of any type currently operating at Opa Locka Airport. Come March 31, there will be none.

Fixed based operators or FBO’s service business and private jets. They also perform maintenance, refueling, storage and cleaning service for the aircraft during stops at airports. Opa Locka Flightline also provides concierge services such as catering, ground transportation and dinner reservations for jet travelers. Executives with IBM, Sears and other major corporations have used the company, as well as personalities like Tom Joyner, Enrique Iglesias, and Lil’ Jon.

The company was founded in 2007 by four partners, including Robinson and Edward “Ed” Brown, who are the city of Opa- locka’s former city manager and assistant city manager, respectively. The partnership also consists of husband and wife, Eric and Linnette Turner.

The company is closing due to the expiration of its lease, and a dispute with the county and its contractors over a new one.

“We truly appreciate your support during the last few years and we look forward to serving you again in the near future once we have successfully concluded our case,” Robinson said.

That case is making its way through the courts. It  seeks damages for alleged breach of contract, loss of revenue, and malicious interference in the firm’s business.

Flightline is represented by mega-lawyer Willie E. Gary of Stuart, who filed the lawsuit in July 2009. He could not be reached for comment.

The case seeks to resolve the lease dispute between Flightline, Miami-Dade County, and AA Acquisitions LLC, which has a contract with Miami-Dade County to manage and develop a portion of the airport.

AA Acquisitions manages 240 acres of the airport, including 2.5 acres where Flightline operations are located.  When Flightline was founded, Brown said, it  had a 5-year temporary lease, with an agreement to enter into a long-term 30-year lease. It would have included an additional 15 acres of space, where new facilities and additional lots to store and service more jets would be constructed.

No one from AA Acquisitions returned calls, and officials with the Miami-Dade County Aviation Department could not be reached for comment.

The saga began in 2005 when Opa-locka Aviation Group, which had the original contract to manage and develop 240 acres at the airport, failed to meet its contractual obligations. This included the company’s failure to complete infrastructure and facility improvements, which prompted aviation department officials to begin the process to void the contract.

In 2007, the Aviation Group’s lawyer, Milton Ferrell– now deceased– joined with developer Michael Adler and Leonard Abess, former CEO of City National Bank of Florida to form AA Acquisitions LLC. The company then purchased the aviation group’s lease for $19 million, according to county records.

AA Acquisitions also assumed management of the remaining smaller leaseholders at the airport.

It was during this same time that Flightline reached a long-term lease agreement with county officials. It was scheduled to be placed on the agenda for commissioner’s approval, but was held up without explanation, Robinson said.

“We have the letter they sent us, but found out later they had actually assigned our space to AA Acquisitions for them to develop,” Robinson said. “The county told us we now had to negotiate with AA Acquisitions.”

Robinson says AA Acquisitions demanded higher lease amounts, and for a shorter term. Additionally, AA Acquisitions wanted to relocate Flightline to a different, less-desirable location. To make matters worse, Flightline would have to compete directly with AA Acquisitions, which had started its own fixed-based operation, the Orion Jet Center.

“The county told us to negotiate an agreement with a company that was now our competitor, which does not make any business sense,” Robinson said. “Our day in court is coming, and it will all come out.”

Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Anthony Robinson