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Mon, Dec 29, 2008

Dueling Aerial Advertising Companies Head To Court

Competition Not Only In The Air, Also On The Ground For Hangar Space

Competing for a lease on the same hangar space, two St. Petersburg, FL-based banner-towing companies are at odds... again.

The feud concerns rivals Advertising Air Force and Florida Aerial Advertising, operators who have been in competition for about 30 years. The relationship has been a strained one at best, with criticisms of each other's safety records at the forefront.

In fact, the firms had safety records so blemished that the City of St. Petersburg once banned both companies from operations at St. Pete's Albert Whitted Airport (SPG).

The current beef is over leased hangar space at SPG, brought into contention by the October 25 passing of Advertising Air Force's founder, Tom Merrifield. City documents show that AAF's  lease was sold by Merrifield the day before he died to another banner-towing company, Aerial Banners North.

Bill Bruckner, founder of Florida Aerial Advertising, sought an injunction to block the transfer of the lease, which had about two years remaining. Calling the transfer illegal, Bruckner's attorneys questioned how a man "literally on the verge of death" was able to sell his business, the St. Pete Times reported.

Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn said, "What we had before us was what appeared to be a valid assignment of a lease." Bruckner, disputing the process, instead proposed the hangar space should be open to bids.

A twist to the tale involves a new version of Advertising Air Force, which is currently sub-letting the sought-after hangar from Aerial Banners North. "I plan on running a tighter ship," said new owner Kevin Wilson.

Bruckner's suit for an injunction failed, and the City Council passed the transfer on December 18. Winn said that when the lease expires in 2010, the hangar will be put up for bid.

FMI" www.stpete.org/airport

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