07/14/09 — Management group will drop operation of county airport

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Management group will drop operation of county airport

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 14, 2009 1:49 PM

The economic downturn is being blamed by the company that manages the Goldsboro-Wayne Airport for its decision to terminate its contract with the county effective Aug. 1.

That decision could mean management of the airport now will fall to the county -- something county and airport officials say is more the rule than the exception. The second option would be to bid out the contract.

County Manager Lee Smith will meet today with officials of SIG Aviation to discuss the transition, possible transfer of assets and airport operations.

"It was just a financial decision," airport manager Jim Steele said. "It is purely economics. I think it (the arrangement with the county) has worked pretty well. We think it has worked well for the county and for us, but now it is a difficult time and we had to make a decision."

The business climate has changed over the past several months, Steele added.

Those changes, he said, include the loss of a couple of planes that have been moved to other airports and a decline in fuel sales.

"Also, we started (SIG) to support our own flying operation and use and we are not flying nearly as much as we used to," Steele said.

SIG Aviation is owned by Strickland Insurance.

Steele said the company will remain a tenant at the airport.

One of the things to be discussed today will the possible transfer of assets.

"There might be stuff here they (county) can use," Steele said.

The items, he said, could include things that the county would need to operate the airport. Other items could include things such as furniture that the county might or might not need.

Both Steele and Smith said the two employees at the airport are expected to remain.

Doug Lancaster has been employed at the airport for nine years and Tom Cushing for six. Both are retired from the military and have decades of experience around aircraft, Steele said.

"They provide great customer service," he said.

Smith said he would recommend that the two men's employment be handled similarly to those in the Wayne County Economic Development Alliance. Those employees work for the county, but are "leased" back to the alliance, Smith said.

"It (airport) is a simple operation, and I think it easily can be handled with the two employees out there," he said. "The airport is absolutely an economic development tool."

Smith said he was "not really surprised" by SIG's decision.

"Airport authority members have talked about it over the past month," Smith said.

The airport authority's monthly session is scheduled for Thursday, July 23, at 7 a.m. at the B&G Grill on East Ash Street.

County attorney Borden Parker is in the process of reviewing the contract and Smith and his financial staff are reviewing the airport's finances.

A cost analysis will be performed to determine if the airport could operate as a county enterprise fund similar to the county EMS that generates revenues from fees.

Smith said he could not make a decision on the airport without the support and guidance of county commissioners.

The board does not meet again until Aug. 4. Smith said he plans to ask SIG officials if there is any "wiggle" room where the Aug. 1 date is concerned in order to have time for commissioners to discuss the change. Steele indicated that might be possible.

Smith noted that the change would not impact the airport budget that already has been approved. The airport has a total operating budget of $247,567 in local funding -- $155,900 for operating expenses and $91,667 for capital expenses.

It is, he said, just a matter of "shifting" it around to account for if the county assumes management.

If that happens, the airport staff would either report directly to Smith or more than likely to someone on his management staff.

Smith agreed with Steele that SIG had done an "excellent" job at the airport.

He called county management of the airport a "logical" move.

The change will have little if any impact on Goldsboro, City Manager Joe Huffman said.

Huffman said he did not know all of the details, but that Smith had given him a "heads up" about the pending change. Huffman said he has not had the opportunity to discuss the issue with the City Council.

"The city is not very involved in the airport," Huffman said. "All we do is appoint certain members to the airport authority."

The city, he said, does not invest in the airport and does not receive any revenue from it.

"I see no opposition from the city," he said. "It will have little impact on the city."