A 12-year tenant at Blue Grass Airport, TAC Air, is spending $11.5 million on improvements that it hopes will be completed in time for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.
But a relatively new company that also services private and chartered aircraft at the airport has become WEG organizers' "preferred" partner.
Air 51, which opened a $3 million hangar at the airport last year, will work closely with the Games' hospitality program to provide special attention for visitors who fly into Lexington — whether commercially or on private or chartered planes — who have bought hospitality packages for the Games.
TAC Air and Air 51 are the two "fixed-base operators" at the Lexington airport. Fixed-base operators at airports generally provide fuel, maintenance and storage for private planes.
TAC Air, based in Texarkana, Texas, operates at 13 airports across the country.
Locally owned Air 51 approached WEG leaders several months ago about being a sponsor for the Games, WEG spokespersons said.
A marketing employee of TAC Air inquired by e-mail about becoming involved in WEG doings as WEG was putting the final touches on its agreement with Air 51, said Kim Bennett, director of hospitality for the Games, scheduled for Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, 2010.
"We told them that we were ... in the final stages of entering into our contract with Air 51," Bennett said.
She said the preferred designation for Air 51 came about through Alex Boone, who co-owns the business.
"He knows a lot of folks," Bennett said. "He really has been promoting the Games and the hospitality programs to a lot of people in the horse world."
Danny Walsh, vice president of aviation for the company that does business as TAC Air, said he was disappointed that TAC Air was not selected.
"I dare say, if it was just a selection like this, it has something to do outside aviation," he said. "We'd like to care for any customer coming through there."
Air 51 will provide ground transport from the airport's terminal to the Air 51 hangar and will have a concierge center, where visitors can pick up their tickets and credentials for the Games.
WEG leaders won't disclose details of the sponsorship deal with Air 51; however, they said that WEG is not paying Air 51 for the services it will provide.
Co-owner Boone said he hopes Air 51's designation as the Games' preferred fixed-base operator will be a boon to the start-up.
"We are very proud to be the entry into Lexington and Central Kentucky for the World Equestrian Games," he said.
Meanwhile, Walsh said TAC Air is moving "full steam ahead" to build a new terminal, which is expected to be completed before the Games. The terminal and three new hangars make up the bulk of the $11.5 million in improvements that TAC Air has planned at the Lexington airport.
Walsh said the project has been slowed by recent changes in airport personnel. Four of the airport's top managers, including executive director Michael Gobb, stepped down in January amid questions about their spending of airport money. Since then, the airport has undergone a management and staff reorganization.
"We would have expected it to be a little further along," Walsh said of the project. He said TAC Air hopes to obtain construction permits by July 1, and he expects the project to take eight to 10 months to complete, once the permits are obtained.
"We're just looking forward to being ready when the Games do come and taking care of customers like we have for the last 12 years," Walsh said.