Tag: Horry County Department of Airports

Skydive Myrtle Beach, Horry County and Federal Law

The general aviation procedures at the Horry County Department of Airports seem to raise more questions than answers provided.

The county is currently involved in litigation with Skydive Myrtle Beach over the apparently discriminatory way in which the airport department attempted to treat the skydiving company.

While researching information regarding the ongoing litigation between Skydive Myrtle Beach and Horry County, I came across an interesting piece of information that brings into question leases between the airport department and several individual businesses operating at county airports.

Horry County proposed Skydive Myrtle Beach occupy a hangar at Grand Strand Airport under a space use agreement in which the county would charge Skydive Myrtle Beach $1,200 per month or 24% of the gross receipts of the business, whichever is greater.

The Department of Airport leases with Executive Helicopter at Myrtle Beach International Airport include an annual lease amount or 5% of the gross receipts, whichever is greater.

Skydive Myrtle Beach offered tandem skydiving operations to interested customers. Executive Helicopters provides helicopter sightseeing rides as well as maintenance services.

However, under the terms of what is commonly called the United States Anti Head Tax Act, it appears those charges on gross receipts may be illegal.

The US Department of Transportation, under which the FAA is included, is charged with administering the AHTA.

The AHTA prohibits a state or political subdivision (such as a county) from levying or collecting a: “tax, fee, head charge, or other charge [directly or indirectly] on — an individual traveling in air commerce; … or the gross receipts derived from that air commerce or transportation. 49 U.S.C. § 40116(b)(1), (4).”

Skydive Myrtle Beach v Horry County

Horry County’s ongoing litigation with Skydive Myrtle Beach isn’t as clear cut as county staffers would have you believe.

In fact, the matter is so conflicted that Aero News Network, an online aviation industry publication, did a rather extensive investigation of the ‘so-called’ facts of the case.

Their conclusion: “The matter is convoluted, contains a number of questionable statements (including charges of hazards and safety issues by county officials that appear to be highly suspect and based on less than expert knowledge of skydiving operations/hazards)…”

ANN editor in chief Jim Campbell, a veteran skydiver with USPA jumpmaster and instructor ratings, conducted a series of telephone interviews with Skydive Myrtle Beach staff and customers as well as Horry County officials.

Campbell’s conclusions from those interviews: “So far; no major safety issues have been corroborated and a number of respondents with significant skydiving credentials report few credible safety issues of any note — and nothing of significant import. However; the alleged safety issues noted by Horry County staffers, as well as some FAA bureaucrats (but not reported to SDMB staff or management until long after the alleged incidents occurred), seem questionable in both credibility as well as context…”

Campbell was so moved by his findings that he filed requests for investigation of the entire issue with the SC Attorney General, US Department of Transportation Inspector General and US Justice Department.

Horry County Department of Airports has a history of contradictory treatment of airport, especially general aviation, businesses. It put up with over 10 years of unfulfilled promises by AvCraft, reducing the rent on the hangars AvCraft leased at least three times, before deciding enough is enough.

In a letter dated February 19, 2014, Horry County attorney H. Randolph Haldi accused an attorney representing Skydive Myrtle Beach with either a “misunderstanding or misuse of criminal law.”

Horry County General Aviation Woes in Conway

General aviation at the Conway Airport is another area in which the Horry County Department of Airports has missed the boat.

The county’s three general aviation airports, Conway, North Myrtle Beach and Loris, were a topic of specific discussion at Horry County Council’s budget retreat last spring because of the continuing deficit they generate.

Conway airport is an interesting study in what is wrong with general aviation in Horry County.

The North American Institute of Aviation relocated from Hammonton, NJ to Conway in 1978 in the same time period that Horry County government was instituting the recently passed home rule for county government.

For the next 20 years, Horry County government didn’t have worries about the Conway airport as the school thrived through close connections with the Scandinavian countries of Europe. The school paid rent to the county for the facilities it used and also was the Fixed Base Operator for Conway airport, although sources say the FBO was run to basically support the school.

In the late 1990’s NAIA enrollment began to decline because of a saturation point being reached in the number of Scandinavian pilots and new European Union laws that did not automatically accept U.S. Federal Aviation Administration certification of the pilots that trained here.

Myrtle Beach International Airport

The New Horry County Transportation Committee

The Horry County Transportation Committee held its inaugural meeting Thursday.

Appointed by Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus, after the Airport Advisory Board was discontinued several months ago, the committee members are Gary Loftus, Chairman and Johnny Vaught, Bill Howard and Lazarus.

The committee will provide initial oversight of issues for the full council on airports, Coast RTA and the railroad.

With the railroad sale now completed, R.J. Corman, the new owners, are clearing the track in preparation of fixing the line and bridges so that the portion in North Carolina to the SCDOT bridge across the waterway at Myrtle Beach can be opened for traffic.

Lazarus said Corman wants to open the track as quickly as possible for service to those former users and possibly new economic development opportunities associated with rail freight.

In time, it is possible that special passenger excursions, dinner trains, and the like will be run from Myrtle Beach to Conway, but that is for the future.

The largest undertaking over the next several months will be committee involvement with a comprehensive airport master plan for the county’s four general aviation airports – Myrtle Beach International, Grand Strand in North Myrtle Beach, Conway and Loris.

Horry County General Aviation Problems

An email making its way around the county highlights continuing problems with general aviation at the Horry County Department of Airports.

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.

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.”

Myrtle Beach International Airport

Horry County Airport Advisory Board Dissolution

The proposed dissolution of the Horry County Airport Advisory Board currently being considered by Horry County Council is a mistake.

This has not always been my attitude.

From the late 1990’s through approximately 2008, the board was a rubber stamp for some of the worst decisions made by Horry County Department of Airports staff.

Overseeing Horry County Department of Airports

Oversight of the Horry County Department of Airports may change based on an ordinance that will be considered by the county’s Administration Committee.

The ordinance, if approved by Horry County Council, would eliminate the Horry County Airport Advisory Board.

The Airport Advisory Board is appointed by Horry County Council. It meets once a month to provide input and recommendations to council about airport matters.

In the past, the Airport Advisory Board has been a rubber stamp for airport staff and Horry County Council, especially on issues like new terminals at Myrtle Beach International Airport. Frankly, it failed to perform its advisory oversight mission.

More recently, however, it was questions by several board members that led to not tearing down portions of the old terminal complex at the airport.

Myrtle Beach International Airport

Horry County Council Delays Airport Work

I was happy to see Horry County Council table a budget amendment Tuesday for façade work on the old passenger terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

The action keeps $3.5 million from being spent needlessly since plans for what to do with that portion of the old terminal don’t exist.

Saving $3.5 million is a drop in the bucket of money that has been spent needlessly at the airport over the last 15-20 years.

Myrtle Beach International Airport

Horry County Department of Airports Terminal Expenditures

The Horry County Department of Airports is preparing to spend at least $10 million refurbishing the old passenger terminal building.

This is on top of the approximately $120 million spent in the last few years for a new terminal building.

There should be some justification for these expenses, but it’s hard to fathom what that is when looking at passenger numbers at Myrtle Beach International Airport.

Myrtle Beach International Airport

Horry County Council Looks at Airports

One of the more interesting discussions at the recent Horry County Council budget retreat dealt with the county’s Department of Airports.

Concerns were expressed about the county’s three general aviation airports, Grand Strand, Conway and Loris, all losing money.

The Department of Airports showed a net operating loss of approximately $150,000 last year. The three general aviation airports accounted for a total loss of approximately $400,000 while Myrtle Beach International Airport showed a profit of approximately $250,000.