By Paul Gable
The recent firing of Horry County Airport Director Mike La Pier was not only precipitated by the guarantee to WestJet costing the county $500,000.
As one council member said, ‘that was just the straw that broke the camel’s back, but there were a lot of other straws.’
Several months ago, the airport advisory board heard from a consultant group hired by the airport department pushing, among other things, a new airport master plan that called for a second runway to be built.
Anyone living here before 2007 knows that is probably the stupidest recommendation made to the airport board in the last six years.
La Pier was only here three years, so he wasn’t around during the successful battle to break the ‘Cape Canaveral North’ master plan. The battle was won in 2007, after which the current master plan was designed.
La Pier wasn’t here in 2007, but didn’t he bother to learn of anything that happened before – the relatively recent airport master plan and just how toxic the subject of a second runway is?
Another recent beauty was the proposal to tear down the old terminal building, a perfectly sound building that could find many uses in the future.
I know there are several current and former council members who would like to see the old terminal building demolished. As long as it continues to stand, it is a monument to the waste of $130 million dollars that is the new terminal building.
The new terminal building was a gross waste of money and not needed. A small addition and refurbishment of the old terminal building would have worked fine and saved tens of millions of dollars.
The new terminal building decision was not made on La Pier’s watch, but his foolish goal of one million passengers in 2011 shows how out of touch he was with passenger traffic at Myrtle Beach.
Then, he foolishly did not make sure marketing efforts for the WestJet routes were coordinated, costing the county $500,000.
The airport department is now the operator of fixed base operations at Myrtle Beach, Conway and Grand Strand airports. Veteran pilot friends of mine say the best FBO operations around the country are run by private operators contracted to the governmental agency that owns the airports, not by the public agencies themselves.
Finally, there’s the helicopters. La Pier became a champion for Huffman Helicopters rather than looking out for the interests of county residents in the new lease with Huffman. As a result, not only is helicopter noise continuing to draw complaints from residents, but also the county is literally a partner in Huffman operations receiving five percent of Huffman’s gross revenue.
Talk about looking out for quality of life!
Add that to the fact that employee relations under La Pier were reportedly not the best (or even close to it) and you have the recipe for what happened Friday.