07/27/09 — Duplin might be model for Wayne County airport

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Duplin might be model for Wayne County airport

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 27, 2009 2:23 PM

Goldsboro-Wayne Airport Authority Chairman Otto Keesling said it is possible the county could model its new airport management structure after the one being used in Duplin County.

The move would have the county following a statewide trend in which airports are managed by local governments and not contracted out to fixed base operators.

Duplin County Airport Manager George Futrelle, of the Grantham community, operates the airport as a county employee.

Keesling made his comments in an interview following the authority's breakfast meeting last week.

During the meeting, Clerk of Court Pam Minshew swore in new board member John Strickland and current members Ken Banks (treasurer), Paul King, Keesling (chairman), Jim Maxwell (secretary) and Ron Prince (vice chairman).

Keesling has served nine previous terms as chairman and has been involved with the authority since 1986.

The change in airport management will come about next month as result of SIG Aviation's decision to cancel its contract with the county. Airport manager Jim Steele said in an earlier interview that the decision was purely an economic one.

This Saturday was to have been Steele's final day as airport manager. However, after meeting with County Manager Lee Smith, SIG officials agreed to remain through Aug. 9.

The county might opt to hire a third party to operate the airport or make it a county department as Duplin County has done.

Smith has said he did not want to act without briefing commissioners and securing their support. The board does not meet again until Aug. 4.

"Most of our authority members in the past have been pilots," Keesling said. "Some are inactive. I am active as a commercial, multi-engine, instrument-rated pilot, so we hope to press on with business here. We are negotiating with the county to adjust our management at the airport. We don't know now until Mr. Smith gets back in town. He is on vacation.

"Most of the counties now in the state of North Carolina are taking over the fixed base operations of airports for a lot of reasons -- economics, streamlining and preventing having to renegotiate contracts. We have in the past 15 years had to do that about five times. It is a very competitive business and a complicated business to manage. It requires a lot of time and a lot of people enter into it not knowing that."

He called airport management about a seven-day-a-week job for someone who manages it on his own.

"Of course, the county managing it and our employees, if they do work for the county, will be a stable workforce for us," he said. "We have enjoyed a lot of customer satisfaction, very few if any customer complaints. We hope to continue on with that customer service.

"The Goldsboro-Wayne Airport is a very important part of the economic structure of the county. We have a lot of corporate aviation come in on a monthly basis and I hope to maintain some very precise records on exactly who lands there and type of aircraft. We are talking multi-million aircraft."

Keesling said the authority also is hopeful of continuing to upgrade the airport to accommodate all aircraft.

The economic downtown has put any plans of lengthening the runway on hold.

"We don't know where that is at," he said.

Overlaying asphalt on the runway should be completed by October, Keesling said. That work is needed to correct some deterioration of the asphalt and also enable it to handle heavier aircraft.