Tenant Sues Johnston County Airport Authority

A conceptual drawing of Blue Line Aviation airplane parking released during the 2019 groundbreaking for the facility at the Johnston County Airport in Smithfield.

SMITHFIELD – In 2019, the Johnston County Airport Authority announced a partnership with Blue Line Aviation LLC to develop and expand the Johnston County Regional Airport. Two years later, Blue Line Aviation has sued the airport authority and both sides are now at odds.

Blue Line Aviation filed a 48-page lawsuit on November 17, 2021 against the Airport Authority, which includes a motion for a temporary restraining order.

In January 2019, Blue Line Aviation unveiled plans to build a state of the art aviation facility and headquarters at the airport on Swift Creek Road. County Commissioners approved a $100,000 tax incentive grant for the multi-million dollar aviation facility and flight school. Ted Godwin who was chairman of the Johnston County Board of Commissioners at the time of the announcement said, “We are proud to strongly support Blue Line Aviation…”

Ken Starling, Chairman of the Johnston County Airport Authority echoed Commissioner Godwin’s statement adding, “We are very pleased to have Blue Line Aviation partner with us as we work to develop and expand the potential at JNX…”

However, the relationship has soured and the two sides have retained lawyers over a dispute over parking for planes.

In the lawsuit, Blue Line Aviation contents they signed a lease with the Johnston County Airport Authority in October 2018, just prior to the public announcement, and the lease included space for Blue Line to park its planes. They claim that despite clear terms in the signed document, the Airport claims Blue Line must pay additional money for space to park their airplanes.

They further claim the Airport is now preventing them from accessing the leased space to park company planes.

Blue Line Aviation has a fleet of 23 planes that it uses for business operations with plans to grow the fleet over the next several years. Founded in 2012, they were originally headquartered at Raleigh-Durham Airport but decided to relocate to the Johnston County Airport to expand its business operations and fleet.

Blue Line Aviation contends the lease agreement included a space directly in front of their airport facility for planes to park. The lawsuit alleges Airport Director Phil Lanier approved the site plan on July 13, 2018.

As part of the construction of their new facility, Blue Line Aviation said they had a contractor scheduled to install tie-downs for their company-owned airplanes on November 16, 2021. The evening prior, they allege the Airport Authority directed its employees or contractors “…to erect temporary barricades around the tie-downs in Blue Line’s Leased Apron Space in order to prevent Blue Line and others from accessing the tie-downs.” Blue Line then directed its contractor not to install the tie-downs.

The lawsuit contends the Airport Authority claimed for the first time, in October and November 2021, the Lease did not include Apron Space for airplane parking. Blue Line Aviation claimed their lease includes not only the footprint of their building but a 50-foot perimeter around the building, and the Airport’s claims contradicts the site plans previously approved by the director.

Phil Lanier, the Airport Director, confirmed the Johnston County Airport Authority was served with the civil complaint. In an email Mr. Lanier said, “The complaint alleges that the apron area recently constructed by the Authority at Johnston Regional Airport with government funding for use as public aircraft parking space is included as part of the property leased to Blue Line, and that Blue Line has the exclusive right to use this airport apron area.”

“The Authority does not agree with the allegations in Blue Line’s complaint and will vigorously defend the complaint to ensure, consistent with the Authority’s federal and state obligations, that all users of the Airport are treated in a fair and equal manner.”

A court date to hear the complaint is pending.

Related Articles:

Aviation Company To Build Headquarters At Johnston Regional Airport

Blue Line Aviation Breaks Ground On $13 Million Facility At Johnston Regional Airport


  1. I think the Johsnton County Airport Authority has taken notice on how well the Johnston County School Board have pushed our county commissioners around and has made a statement ! It is our turn now to see how fast cheap lawn furniture will fold up?

  2. Nice move. You newest and biggest on-field customer and this is how you welcome them? Hopefully someone suggested some form of arbitration first before it came to slinging law suits. Commissioners watching this? Perhaps having an aviation oriented airport director instead of a highway engineer might have prevented this.

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