By Paul Gable
An email making its way around the county highlights continuing problems with general aviation at the Horry County Department of Airports.
Sent to members of Horry County Council and others in the local aviation community, the email hits on many areas of concern about the management of Grand Strand Airport in particular and general aviation in a more broad spectrum.
Discussions about general aviation were taken up during the Horry County Council March 2015 budget retreat. It was mentioned that the county’s general aviation operations were running approximately $400,000 in the red.
Horry County Department of Airports has been without a Director of General Aviation for approximately 18 months during which time it established new regulations, many would call them ridiculous restrictions, on general aviation airports.
Additionally, Horry County Council recently disbanded its Airport Advisory Board, a move that guaranteed there would be no outside input into airport operations, which means all recommendations are coming from a Department of Airports staff that isn’t doing the job, in our estimation.
There is a general aviation terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport and general aviation airports in North Myrtle Beach, Conway and Loris.
At the time of the budget retreat, GSD wrote that the problem was the county, and specifically Horry County Department of Airports, has neither a real business plan nor any idea how to develop one.
That’s a main reason the International Technology and Aerospace Park (ITAP) at Myrtle Beach International remains nothing but bare grass and why the nearly 200 acres of county land surrounding Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach has no aviation related businesses located there.
This was reiterated in the email, which was sent by a long time aviation business operating in the county, “I would tell you that you need someone in this job that understands aviation, how to promote it and educate the public on the benefits derived from it. Above all, a complete change of attitude on how best to attract good solid business people at these facilities to service the aviation community. Only then will these four airports become productive and useful to the county.”
Other on point comments include:
“Once again the heavy hand of overzealous management, the endless legal contractual agreements by county lawyers justifying their jobs and the arrogance that is displayed to the general aviation public is in full bloom with every bad decision that is made directed to each aircraft owner in this county.”
“Management’s (HCDA) favorite word of the day is “no through the fence operations” meaning we don’t have the ability to use who we want to work on our property so every aircraft owner suffers an undue burden by having to fly their aircraft somewhere else or be forced to use an operator they may not necessarily want to use.”
“The restrictions at this airport (Grand Strand) from this current management group are intolerable and quite frankly deplorable.”
The basic truth is the airport department has run off business from its airports over the years rather than attempting to bring more business in.
Except in the case of helicopters where the airport department has bent over backwards to accommodate helicopter tour ride operators much to the anger of local citizens who are grossly affected by the noise.
The county purchased the final seven years of the Ramp 66 lease at Grand Strand Airport, the fixed base operator who had run that airport for over 20 years. Now, there is no maintenance facility available at Grand Strand and the county is essentially running nothing more than an aviation gas station at Grand Strand Airport with aviation gas prices $1.70 per gallon or more above what is available just across the state line in North Carolina.
The various fees charged by the Department of Airports are among the highest in the state, both on the general aviation and commercial aviation sides.
And still the Horry County Department of Airports loses money.
Horry County Council proved its ability to raise taxes when it wasn’t necessary last month. Maybe, now it can do something positive and attempt to make the assets it controls pay for themselves.
Where’s the Republican Gang of Five when you need them?