By Paul Gable
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.
General aviation has been the red-headed stepchild of the county airport system for the last 20 years.
Many pilots and businesses in the general aviation community are unhappy with the Horry County Department of Airports approach to operating general aviation.
Lazarus asked for a study to be completed of leasing fixed base operations to private contractors vs. the current system of having the airport department control everything.
Leasing FBO’s to private companies would be preferable, in our opinion, as the current operations controlled by the airport department leaves much to be desired.
At least two of our general aviation airports have potential that is not utilized or even understood by the management of the Horry County Department of Airports.
Hopefully this committee will force some common sense into the discussions and provide strong oversight and leadership on airport issues.
When the Horry County Department of Airports management is left to its own devices, we get WestJet and AvCraft deals, Taj Mahal West Side Terminal Plans and three runway Cape Canaveral north airport plans.