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5/29/1999

New owners of Huffman Aviation have global presence

Huffman Aviation Inc., a fixed-base operator at Venice Municipal Airport was sold, pending approval by the Venice City Council, to Ambassador Airways and Aerojet Services Inc., a fixed-base operator at the Naples Airport, for an undisclosed sum.

     Ambassador Airways owners Rudi Dekkers, 42, Naples, president, and Wally Hilliard, 67, also from Naples, both experienced pilots are enthusiastic.

     "We've signed a letter of intent, subject to approval by city council," Hilliard said. "We've put enough down to make the deal binding, enough to make it uncomfortable to walk away."

     The Huffman Aviation company name will be retained, according to the new owners.

     "Ambassador Airways is delighted to have acquired Huffman Aviation, an organization similar to our own with a flight school, charter operation and aircraft service facility. The acquisition has considerably increased our fleet of aircraft which will enable us to offer our customer base a greater range and selection of airplanes for flight instruction and charter," Dekkers said.

     Ambassador's fleet of 14 aircraft including the Cessna 152, C-172s, C172XP, Pilatus PC 12, Seminole PA-44 and Barron-55 will be added to Huffman Aviation's fleet of 12 aircraft including the Cessna C-150, C-172, Piper Warriors, Katanas, Arrow and Seminole.

     Ambassador also operates several jet aircraft including Lear jets.

     "We are well aware of noise. We will not bring Stage One (older jet aircraft) in here. We have Stage Two and Stage Three aircraft (newer noise suppressed aircraft). The people who live around here won't notice any difference," Dekkers said.

     Dekkers and Hilliard do not plan any radical changes to the management and running of Huffman Aviation with the exception of extending and improving its corporate jet facility.

     "We intend to add some hangers and use it as a staging area for other aircraft," Hilliard said. "We want to build a corporate facility. We're going to spend some money."

     Dekkers also hinted at some cosmetic changes in the grounds.

     Dekkers said Huffman is a well run business.

     "We are very impressed with the current personnel and management and the way Huffman Aviation is run. We do plan on hiring additional personnel," Dekkers said.

     "We are very impressed with the current personnel and management and the way Huffman Aviation is run. We do plan on hiring additional personnel," Dekkers said.

     The new owners said they will build on Huffman's worldwide reputation and the new company will have an even greater global presence.

     "The world is my working place. I won't forget Venice, but I'm going to market throughout the world, Germany, France, Belgium. That's our goal, to get people to come in here from all over the world," Dekkers said. "We're going to bring so much business to Venice."

     Dekkers and Hilliard have hired Nina Harkness as marketing director for Ambassador Airways.

     "We're going to advertise a lot more extensively in Europe. There'll be a lot more public relations," Harkness said.

     Dekkers said they plan on spending as much as $60,000 a year in advertising and promotion.

     Stan Huffman, owner of Huffman Aviation, is out of state and could not be reached for comment.

     Hilliard and Dekkers said Huffman will serve as a consultant for the new company.

     Venice City Manager George Hunt said he had not been officially notified of the sale but commented, "We wish Stan well, and we would welcome Ambassador Airways. They have a fine reputation in Naples."

     Still unclear is what effect the sale will have on a legal dispute Huffman is having with the city.

     Dekkers could not address that issue.

     Huffman said through a letter from his attorneys last January that the city incurred liability when the city council approved new minimum standards for fixed base operators at the airport earlier this year.

     He claimed that the value of his company had dropped between $500,000 and $900,000 due to the changes.

     Huffman also claimed that the approval of new airport standards denied him equal protection of the law because he was treated differently than other FBOs, and amounted to a taking of his property without just compensation.

     Venice City Attorney Bob Anderson wrote in his response to Huffman's lawyers: "The city disagrees with your contention that it has incurred liability for any alleged diminution in the value of your client's business as a result of the city adoption of Resolution No. 99-3 (minimum standards) and therefore declines your invitation to engage in settlement discussions."

     The Gondolier was unable to reach Anderson for comment on the pending sale and what impact it could have on the status of the legal dispute between the city and Huffman.

     Huffman assumed the Venice Flying Service lease in 1987, which did not meet minimum acreage requirements.

     In 1995, Huffman negotiated a new lease to include more land, merging the Venice Flying Service and the Ingram Air Venice lease which he also assumed in 1987.

By Tommy McIntyre

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