By Paul Gable
Looking at the Horry County Department of Airports through the years, a conclusion can be drawn that businesses operating at the various airports are treated differently.
It’s almost as if winners and losers are chosen by airport officials based on no apparent criteria.
Such an attitude is contradictory to instructions from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Accepting FAA grant money (of which Horry County receives millions every year) and free land conveyance of former Air Force property brings with it certain requirements of and assurances from the county. The most important of these is that the airports and their facilities must be available for public use in a non-discriminatory manner.
However, after discouraging Hooters Air from renting hangar space at Myrtle Beach International Airport by insisting on rental of $5 per sq. ft., the Horry County Department of Airports rented the same hangars to AvCraft for $2 per sq. ft.
That was only the beginning rent. Over a 10 year period the airport department kept reducing rent , in an attempt to keep AvCraft in business, until the company finally went belly up.
The Conway airport was home to the North American Institute of Aviation. The school did well until the late 1990’s when enrollment started to decline.
Local businessman Benjamin Creel bought the school at that point, but its losses continued to mount.
After a fire in the early 2000’s destroyed the terminal building at Conway airport, which also housed the school classrooms, the airport department should have taken a look at the business plan of its tenant before rebuilding the terminal.
However, the county spent several million dollars on a new terminal and classroom building that now sits virtually empty.
The county foreclosed on NAIA in 2008 for back rent and sold off what few assets the school had at the airport at auction.
It wouldn’t have taken much investigation by the county to discover maybe it should not have spent so much money on the new terminal building. A check of public court records shows Creel currently has 16 tax liens filed against him by the SC Department of Revenue.
At Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach, the Horry County Department of Airports ran off a perfectly good, profitable skydiving business because some county officials didn’t want it to continue operations.
Part of this endeavor included the airport department getting Horry County Council to pass a set of rules for general aviation that it accused Skydive Myrtle Beach of breaking before the rules were even approved by council.
The above examples are anything but consistent. Maybe the FAA should take a much closer look at how the Horry County Department of Airports operates.