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Airport continues effort to sever ties with city

Thursday, March 27, 2014 5:22 PM
Last updated Friday, March 28, 2014 1:35 AM
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The appointed body that governs Augusta Regional Airport is continuing a push to become an airport authority not subject to the Augusta Commission.

Augusta Aviation Commission on Thursday unanimously authorized airport Executive Director Gary LeTellier to seek an outside legal opinion on how the airport commission could convert to an authority, after existing legal opinions were said to differ on the topic.

The panel also approved tasking LeTellier with determining the scope and getting a cost estimate for hiring a consultant to ascertain how to replace city services currently provided the airport, such as human resources, procurement and security.

“I openly admit, I have a bias,” said LeTellier, who prefers the tasks be handled externally.

In recent months, airport officials have complained about time-sensitive matters such as grant awards, large purchases and employment contracts being delayed as they await commission approval or processing through city departments, although a city committee Monday authorized the mayor to sign off on emergency grant awards.

Augusta commissioners, meanwhile, have criticized the board’s January decision to give LeTellier a $10,000 raisethat increased his salary to $160,000, and declined to OK Commissioner Joe Jackson’s solo effort to relinquish commission control.

Jackson, who leaves office this year, said he still favors giving up commission control over the airport.

“They’re not taking from the general fund,” Jackson said. “It’s not even the commission’s money ... When the FAA and Congress puts out a grant and you’ve got limited time to turn it around, we’re losing out on their money. We put people on that board to represent us in their best interests.”

The city-owned airport occupies an enterprise fund, raising its own revenues which it invests back into operations.

Openly opposed to the moves, Commissioner Donnie Smith said the airport was wasting funds seeking legal ways around the eight commission votes needed to amend the city’s Consolidation Act and relinquish control over the airport.

Airport counsel Pamela Everett said Thursday a “charter change” appeared necessary.

“They’re not going to get the eight votes from the commission to get it done and they’re not going to get enough votes from the House members of the delegation,” Smith said. “They’re just wasting money is what they’re doing.”

Delegation members previously rejected an effort by Rep. Barbara Sims, R-Augusta, to create an authority.

Rep. Earnest Smith, D-Augusta, a former air traffic controller and retired Air Force major who previously served on the aviation commission, said he’d been surprised at an earlier meeting when the request was “dropped in our laps” with no advance warning.

“This is not the best time to be looking at making it an authority,” Smith said Thursday. “There are much more important things to be dealt with than that.”

Smith said he’d yet to receive any further communications about the effort. “No one has talked to me,” he said.

Created by the legislature, governing authorities such as Augusta’s Downtown Development Authority or the Columbia County Airport Authority exist statewide and have greater powers than those granted the Aviation Commission by the city’s Consolidation Act and local ordinances. Those powers include issuing bonds and making non-operational decisions independently of the city commission.

Aviation Commission member Cedric Johnson said after Thursday’s vote a push to separate from the city wasn’t a new concept among airport commissioners, who have discussed the idea for years.

Johnson said while the existing arrangement has sufficed, “there are times when personalities come into play” that prevent streamlined operations at the growing, mid-sized airport.

The commission and delegation members “appoint us,” Johnson said. “Our track record and operations have been stellar.”

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jamc1103
134
Points
jamc1103 03/27/14 - 05:48 pm
4
1
Growing?

I fly out of our airport on business frequently. In fact, I'm in the Atlanta airport about to catch a connection home to Augusta right now. How can anyone say our airport is growing when we have lost flights to two different cities (Dallas and Washington) in the last three years? Those have not been replaced with any new flights to new locations. I would love for it to be growing, with more flight options. But that is hardly the case.

Pops
7507
Points
Pops 03/27/14 - 08:07 pm
4
0
Who can blame them.

If the Confederate Monument on Broad St. could, it would walk across the river and set itself in North Augusta.

fd1962
26
Points
fd1962 03/27/14 - 10:19 pm
1
1
?!
Unpublished

Uhhh, and what does a Columbia County Airport Authority have 'great powers' over anyhow? Could have used a better example.

thauch12
6369
Points
thauch12 03/27/14 - 10:53 pm
2
3
Awful on every front.

Augusta's airport and its management are pretty pathetic. By the time you drive out to the swamp/middle of nowhere and wait for the often delayed flight, you might as well just drive to Atlanta or Charlotte. You really don't save any time by flying from Augusta, especially considering the time you have to factor in for connections.

Add to the fact that parking out there is absolutely ridiculous at $8 a day! They realize people don't have many other options with the airport in such an awful inconvenient location and they sure do fleece you for every penny because of it.

deestafford
25340
Points
deestafford 03/27/14 - 11:25 pm
2
1
What is the set up at other airports of same size city?

What is the set up at other airports of same size city? Why add a layer of bureaucracy of the commissioners when it is not their money involved?

If there is a need for independence it won't be given by the commission because no political entity volunteers to give up any power.

itsanotherday1
41354
Points
itsanotherday1 03/27/14 - 11:34 pm
1
0
There go you Dee; it is all

There go you Dee; it is all about ego and power.

Doug Lively
72
Points
Doug Lively 03/28/14 - 01:16 am
4
2
At risk

Of an argument, I would like to point out that the Washington direct flight was secured with US Airways in July 2012 after the Dallas Ft Worth American Eagle direct flight (ran from 2010 through 2011) was cancelled due to American Airlines bankruptcy filing. The Washington direct loss is due to a Federal Court ruling pertaining to the monopoly of gates owned by the merged USAirways/American Airlines. Before that Continental Express ran direct to Newark and Houston. The Newark direct replaced my NY flight which hubbed out of Atlanta for my weekly business in Greenwich for 2 years. I strongly disagree with jamc1103 in regards to the growth at Augusta Regional Airport. A review of the recovery since September 11, 2001 of ARA outstrip the general aviation market, and the statistics in terms of boarding passengers and revenue verify.

Augusta's parking rates are set after extensive market studies and are fair and in keeping with similar sized airports in similar markets. The Airport Location dates to 1941 with establishment as a military training location prior to WW II. A review of many Airport locations will reveal they are typically located in less than desirable terrain to avoid air traffic noise disturbing residents. I am sorry thauch12 feels the way he/she does. The sentiment appears to be without basis of fact or logical consideration.

To deestafford, our examination reveals a miriad of configurations of Airport governance across the country, with little pattern or relevance to city or traveling public size. Many large airports are still Commissions, many small airports are governed by Authorities. Several are, in fact, controlled by a Ports Authority (New York's Laguardia). Each municipality must find the proper fit for her management which best serves the flying public, private aircraft, and the community at large.

There is much investigation required to ascertain benefits vs cost of Commission vs Authority The reason for looking further has more to do with ARA efficient and mission focussed operation than any displeasure with the current configuration.

nocnoc
40308
Points
nocnoc 03/28/14 - 04:58 am
2
0
Logical comment

Regarding Donnie Smiths comment.

"Commissioner Donnie Smith said the airport was wasting funds seeking legal ways around the eight commission votes needed to amend the city’s Consolidation Act and relinquish control over the airport."

To this I counter with.

Why is the ARC Commission wasting $$$ fighting the changes, IF they are sure the State House will not approve the changes anyway?

Why not just let the State house decide the issue and save the ARC Taxpayers a few 100' Thousand $$$$$?

Why the needless turf war?

Why 8 votes are needed for this, when SPLOST's proposals can be passed by 6 votes?

Dixieman
13856
Points
Dixieman 03/28/14 - 05:14 am
3
1
Dixieman has the solution

1. Close both Augusta Regional and Columbia SC airports.
2. Find new location halfway between the two cities along I-20 (lots of vacant land there as you drive by).
3. Build new airport there: "CSRA Airport".
4. Case closed.

seenitB4
84100
Points
seenitB4 03/28/14 - 05:39 am
3
1
That says a lot

"There is much investigation required to ascertain benefits vs cost of Commission vs Authority The reason for looking further has more to do with ARA efficient and mission focussed operation than any displeasure with the current configuration."

Keep up the good work Mr Lively....efficient & mission focused-I like that.

Riverman1
81350
Points
Riverman1 03/28/14 - 07:08 am
4
0
Works for University Hospital

Although, I think Dixieman's Columbia-Augusta Airport in Aiken County right off I-20 is a good one, I also appreciate Doug Lively coming on here and giving us the facts. University Hospital runs lots better without the Commission micromanaging it. The airport would also benefit from independent management. I wish Donnie Smith would rethink his position and keep in mind the University Hospital example.

Riverman1
81350
Points
Riverman1 03/28/14 - 07:26 am
4
0
Cyber Command Effect

By the way, I bet the Cyber Command will increase passengers. Those guys are always flying somewhere.

corgimom
30077
Points
corgimom 03/28/14 - 08:01 am
0
2
If the airport becomes

If the airport becomes independent, does that mean that they'll give the clock back to the City of Augusta, since the taxpayers paid for it?

sand gnat
447
Points
sand gnat 03/28/14 - 09:33 am
4
0
Smart Move

Severing with ARC would be a good move for the airport in that it would
help distance it from the growing number of clowns that are and will be running the city. Sort of like having the opportunity to get off the Titanic as it left port.

thauch12
6369
Points
thauch12 03/28/14 - 10:09 am
2
2
Garbage

Lively, I acknowledge your half-hearted "apology" but take issue with your assertion that my opinion is "without basis of fact or logical consideration." Here are some facts.

1. Regardless of whatever history you want to use as an excuse, the location of the Augusta airport is inconvenient to the people who live in West/North Augusta/downtown who use the facility a good bit.

2. For an area this size, our airport offers service to an absolutely pitiful number of destinations. For the sake of comparison, I lived in the Moline, IL area for part of my life. That metro area is roughly the same as the CSRA and that airport had MUCH greater connectivity (not to mention competition) than Augusta.

3. Going back to point #2, the whole mentality that "hey, we'll jack up our parking prices because other people are doing it" only works if you are offering a comparable product. I have no idea what specific airports your great "market studies" looked at, but if (with if being the operative word) one is trying to compare Augusta's rates to facilities at Savannah/Charleston/Greenville/Columbia/etc., that hardly makes sense considering all of these cities offer much more in the way of flight choices than our little airstrip. Charlotte offers much cheaper parking on-site and Atlanta has numerous cheaper off-site parking options (and obviously more flight options).

But then again, the chairman of the Augusta Aviation Commission can be responsible for none of this! As with most things in our fair city, noone is willing to acknowledge the fact that improvements need to happen. It's much easier to play the blame game.

bright idea
751
Points
bright idea 03/28/14 - 10:30 am
2
0
Interesting

Commissioners won't relinquish the airport. Marion Williams might want to learn to fly a plane for free.

seenitB4
84100
Points
seenitB4 03/28/14 - 12:11 pm
1
0
Marinerman1
4532
Points
Marinerman1 03/28/14 - 02:11 pm
1
1
@thauch12

Most airports are in, let's just say, more "distant" locations. A good comparison to Augusta would be Wilmington, NC. It is located in an out of the way location, AND it is also located close to the Wilmington Solid Waste Facility. I have not been up there in years, but we should be able to Google the prices of things.

Marinerman1
4532
Points
Marinerman1 03/28/14 - 02:13 pm
0
0
Found !!!

Marion Williams FOUND Fred Russell's hard drive -- AT THE AIRPORT !! Who knew ??!!

jamc1103
134
Points
jamc1103 03/28/14 - 03:28 pm
2
0
Mr. Lively may be right....

about the fact that there are more passengers flying out of Augusta now than in 2001. However, my point was that we keep losing flights to other cities. How many more passengers would we have if those flights were all still in place? It doesn't matter if the flight went away because of an airline going bankrupt or a merger. The point is that if the customers where there to support those flights, they would still be in place. Either those airlines would find a way to make the flights work, or another airline would jump in to take its place. That isn't happening.

Marinerman1
4532
Points
Marinerman1 03/30/14 - 07:31 am
0
0
Wilmington Airport

I did look up the Wilmington airport, and the long term parking fee is $9 per day.

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