If Augusta wanted to build a new airport from scratch using the aviation industry’s best practices, it would not operate the way Augusta Regional Airport is run now.
Most airport functions are overseen by an executive director who reports to the Augusta Aviation Commission, a 10-member board appointed by the Augusta Commission.
However, some operations – including the time-sensitive and cumbersome functions of purchasing and human resources – are run through city hall.
That is not a best practice.
Grumbling over delayed pay raises and grant applications has renewed interest in amending the city’s charter to sever administrative ties with the Augusta Commission, placing all day-to-day operations under the authority of the Aviation Commission.
Problem is, a charter change would require approval from at least eight of the 10 Augusta commissioners, or a majority of legislators from the local delegation.
And right now, those elected officials appear more interested in consolidating power than trying to let a self-sufficient and mostly autonomous division flourish though complete independence.
They should rethink their positions.
The airport does just fine without micromanagement and likely would do better if freed from all constraints of city government bureaucracy. Airports are businesses, and should be run as businesslike as possible.
Augusta Regional does not draw from the city’s general fund. It pays its own way, a claim most government entities cannot make. That means the airport’s 60-plus city employees could easily be made employees of an airport authority with no reduction in their salaries and benefits packages.
And granting the Aviation Commission the same sort of autonomy afforded to other county authorities – such as the Augusta Downtown Development Authority or the Development Authority of Richmond County – would not necessarily reduce the Augusta Commission’s influence on policy issues.
Under current rules, once an Augusta commissioner appoints someone to the Aviation Commission, that appointee cannot be removed until his or her term expires. Removal powers could be added under a modified city charter or through the creation of an authority.
Most importantly, the structural change would bring Augusta Regional Airport in line with larger and similar-sized airports throughout the country. The current operating structure is alien to many municipal aviation officials, making it difficult for local leaders to attract the best candidates in the future.
Despite its awkward operational structure, Augusta Regional Airport is on a roll. Its financials are in the best shape in years, boardings are up and it is enjoying a growing reputation among general aviation circles for its new world-class general aviation terminal.
Why not cut the red tape and allow the airport to really spread its wings?