Update – La Pier Out as Airport Director – Read Below
By Paul Gable
If current passenger expectations remain valid through the end of October, Horry County will pay WestJet over $500,000 pursuant to a guarantee to the airline county council approved in February 2013.
According to a source familiar with airport operations, the county is already in the hole to WestJet to the tune of $325,000 and expects the bottom line, after WestJet ends this year’s operations October 31st, to be approximately $510,000.
County council approved setting aside a contingency fund of up to $1 million that would be used to guarantee WestJet 60% occupancy, the break-even point for WestJet, on each flight to Myrtle Beach. The county would buy up empty seats on each flight so WestJet would not lose money.
WestJet won’t lose money, but the county did.
At the time county council voted to set aside the contingency fund, council member Gary Loftus said the fund didn’t matter because ‘there was almost no chance’ it would be used.
Loftus and, then, council chairman Tom Rice were members of a special two-man committee for economic development and the airport appointed by Rice.
Well, half of it, at least, is going to be used and it certainly matters now! Another one of these brilliant economy boosting ideas that comes to naught while costing the taxpayer!
Maybe we should have listened more closely to a commenter from Ottawa, Canada after the deal became public.
The commenter said he had checked the price of a roundtrip ticket to Myrtle Beach and found it to be almost $800. He went on to say a person can fly from Toronto to Florida or England for approximately half that price.
“I hate to spoil the party but WestJet is going to be a real disappointment for the airport,” the commenter went on to say.
One of the considerations on the part of the county for entering into the contract with WestJet was bringing additional passengers into its new terminal in order to help justify spending $130 million on the project. Build it and they will come?
Think of it this way. The county overbuilt the capacity needed at the airport. (I can only say thank goodness the $500,000,000 West Side Terminal Project was defeated.)
In an attempt to fill some of that capacity, the county guaranteed WestJet against loss with tax dollars.
Two negatives do not equal a positive in this case!
Why do governments think throwing taxpayer dollars at private companies, in the name of economic development, is such a great idea?
Fortunately council chairman Mark Lazarus placed the airport department back under the oversight of the county’s Administration Committee after he took office. Hopefully we’ll have some real oversight now.
There is one bright spot from all of this. For six months this year, WestJet made the word “International” relevant in the name Myrtle Beach International Airport.
Doesn’t seem to be worth half a million though!
Mike La Pier is out as Director of the Horry County Department of Airports.
In a terse one sentence memorandum to Horry County Airport staff, Horry County Administrator Chris Eldridge named Pat Apone as Interim Director.
“Please be advised that effective immediately Pat Apone will be the Interim Director of Airports. All questions related to airport matters should be referred to her,” read the statement from Eldridge, issued shortly after 1 p.m. today.
According to information we have received, the WestJet issue is just the last straw in a string of issues at the airport department.