The Surry County Airport Authority has filed a response to a suit charging that the airport, through its manager, John Spane, tried to destroy the business of a county flight instructor.
The response moves for dismissal of the Jan. 7 suit, alleging that the plaintiff, James Michael Venable, and his business, Foothills Aviation LLC, fails to state a claim warranting relief.
In the response, filed last week in Surry County Superior Court, attorneys for the authority categorically deny any wrongdoing by Spane or the authority.
Venable’s suit alleges that Spane made derogatory comments to potential customers in an attempt to persuade them to take flight classes from his business, Ra-Tech Aviation. It charges that Spane made a concerted effort to ruin Venable’s business by using the power of the authority to attract students to Spane’s business.
In the suit, Venable says that an April 2012 memo from John Springthorpe III, chairman of the airport authority, also notes that “(Venable’s) success in attracting students indicates that the offerings from the FBO (fixed base operator, or airport service center) are lacking in some way.”
As a result of the memo, Venable says, the airport authority forbid him from using the airport to teach student pilots.
According to the suit, Spane also made derogatory comments about Venable to potential students throughout last summer in an effort to convince them that he was an incompetent instructor.
In one of several allegations of defamation, the suit alleges that around July 29, Spane made the following comments about Venable to specifically-identified potential customers:
• That Venable had crashed multiple airplanes.
• That he had been “run off,” and was banned from the airport for violations of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations and “stealing students.”
• That he overcharged students.
• That the FAA was “getting ready” to take (Venable’s) pilot and instructors’ licenses “so it would be a waste of time to begin taking flight instruction from him.”
• That the local airport authority is currently investigating Venable for criminal activity in connection with and related to his multiple crashes.
• “Spane added that if… I wanted to learn how to crash, go see Mike Venable,” the suit reads.
Venable is seeking an award of monetary damages for all losses of business; an injunction against Spane to “cease and desist making the false, defamatory comments;” the removal of Spane as airport manager; unspecified punitive damages; the costs associated with filing the suit; three times the normal damages that would be awarded in such a case; and any further relief the court deems proper.
The authority’s answer to the allegations say they simply aren’t true.
“Defendant Airport is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations…,” it reads.
In his plea for damages supporting a defamation of character charge against all defendants, Venable said there has been no criminal misconduct or FAA investigation.
“Defendant Spane’s statements were false. Plaintiff Mike Venable has a proven track record of competence, and there is no evidence that he has ever failed to act in the best interests of his flight students,” Venable alleges in the suit. “Moreover, (Venable) has no criminal record and is not under investigation by the FAA, nor has he ever been.”
The “false, defamatory” statements have cost Venable students and have “irreparably injured (Venable) and his company…”
On the defamation charge, Venable is seeking punitive damages in excess of $10,000.
Venable also is alleging deceptive and unfair business practices by Spane and Ra-Tech, saying the alleged comments to potential students were made in an effort to lure customers to Ra-Tech.