The following editorial was published in The Daily Sun on July 17, 2022.
In what is probably the most contentious — and possibly most important — Punta Gorda Airport Authority race in history, incumbent Rob Hancik is facing a strong challenge from newcomer Eric Bretan in the Aug. 23 primary election. The winner earns a four-year term.
Rob Hancik was 14 when he decided he wanted a job in airport management. And, he succeeded.
He got his first job as an intern in 1970 and two years later moved on to another position at the age of 25. When he was offered a position as head of the Springfield, Missouri airport he jumped at the opportunity and ended up staying there for 32 years.
Hancik retired to Punta Gorda in 2004 and people who knew his background urged him to run for the Punta Gorda Airport Authority. He did and he lost to Don Lee. He ran again, however, and beat Lee and won a second term beating Julie Price.
Hancik, who has raised a modest campaign fund of about $6,000, is dealing with strong opposition as Bretan, with about $16,000 in campaign funds, has hammered away at the lack of progress at the airport. Bretan is citing the lack of growth at the airport’s industrial park and the fact Allegiant Airlines has such a monopoly.
Hancik fights back that the airport has grown — setting records for the number of passengers, expanding its terminal, extending its runway and building a new facility that caters to the private air traffic and local pilots.
The airport is working on a $60 million project right now that is funded by cash from CARE, FAA and state money along with some of its reserve funds. The only debt the airport has is an old $1.7 million loan from the state that is being paid off in installments.
The authority board members seem to have a comfort with each other — and as Hancik points out most all of their decisions are made unanimously.
Hancik is excited about the Charlotte Technical Center’s school that will train mechanics. It has a $3 million grant to help but Hancik admits more will be needed.
He believes there is a need to expand the terminal even more as the passenger counts continue to escalate each year.
Bretan has claimed he would help lure more airlines to Punta Gorda, but Hancik says that is no easy task since all the airlines work together to decide on routes and markets.
The idea of privatizing the airport has been the subject of harsh words from both candidates as Bretan was labeled as being in favor of privatization — something he says he never expressed. Bretan charged that Hancik pushed that idea to hurt his campaign.
The fact that Airport Authority member Vanessa Oliver — who in the past has said she wanted to explore privatization by hearing a presentation on the possibilities — has helped Bretan raise money made some people tie the privatization issue to Bretan, who says he is against privatization.
Bretan offers a strong financial background if elected to the board.
He had a career in the financial world, including working for J.P. Morgan for 15 years, before coming to Punta Gorda in 2008 to work with his father-in-law in the jewelry business. They buy estate jewelry, fix it up and sell it online.
Bretan said he and his family are big travelers and that is one reason for his interest in the Authority. He said he began looking at how the airport is run and thinks he can do a better job.
He is critical of Allegiant not flying to destinations that a lot of people would prefer. He says the airport is not doing a good job attracting other airlines.
“If I ran a small business like they do, I would be bankrupt,” Bretan said in a meeting with The Daily Sun editorial board.
Bretan said he is concerned that one day Allegiant could be sold and putting all the airport’s faith in one airline (although there are some flights by Sun Country into Punta Gorda) is foolish. He said he believes the airport could accommodate three times the flights per day that it now handles.
Bretan said while he is friends with Oliver, he denies her father, State Rep. Michael Grant, has helped his campaign in any way. “I did not meet Mike until three months ago,” he said.
The challenger said the airport should seek a marketing person to help find occupants for the industrial park.
We believe both candidates have a lot to offer the Airport Authority.
Hancik, however, has done nothing that makes for a good reason to not give him another term.
If you believe the airport is in good shape, and we do, we recommend voting for Hancik.
If, however, you feel the airport can be better, you may want to vote for Bretan.