Originally created 09/24/01

Airport to lay off staff



Augusta Aviation Commission members voted unanimously this morning to initiate steps to lay off nearly a third of the airport's staff, putting the blame on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden.

The staff of 98 needs to be reduced at Augusta Regional Airport to deal with the impact of attacks, Airport Director Ken Kraemer said. The entire airline industry has recognized the changing marketplace and has made big cuts, Mr. Kraemer said.

"Osama bin Laden has changed the landscape out there. With reduced flights, with reduced number of passengers, that is translating into reduced revenues," he said.

Many airlines have cut back their capacity by 20 percent, airport spokeswoman Kathryn Solee said.

"That's having a ripple-down effect here. Plus, the impact of passengers having a perceived fear," she said. "It all goes back to Sept. 11."

The Aviation Commission took the first step to reduce the force this morning in a process that requires the eventual approval of the Augusta Commission. In meetings this afternoon, the county's Public Services Committee and Administrative Services Committee accepted the Aviation Commission's recommendation and voted unanimously to ask the full Augusta Commission to accept the plan at its Oct. 4 meeting.

Airport officials want to reduce costs, maximize operating efficiency to remain competitive and staff at levels to match demand.

They plan to help displaced workers find other employment, either through the county government or elsewhere, Aviation Commission member Sheila Johnson said.

"We don't just want to put them out on the street," she said. "We are going to try our best to place each one of them, probably within Richmond County government. But if not there, within the labor department and other temporary agencies. And there will be counseling for these families. They are all important to us."

Officials will also examine whether some of the job cuts can be handled through attrition. There are currently 98 authorized positions at Augusta Regional Airport with 11 of those vacant.

All positions at the airport will be evaluated, with every position and every division feeling the impact of the reorganization, officials said.

Because county policy provides for a 60-day separation process, the special meeting was held to set the process in motion as soon as possible.

Aviation Commission Chairwoman Marci Wilhelmi told commission members that it is possible the airport may have to cut more than estimated 30 percent.

"If the industry continues in a downward spiral, we will have to readjust even that figure," she said. "I believe Mr. bin Landen has put us on the tread mill and we will have to convene a meeting with department heads to establish mission statements, re-engineer job descriptions and figure out how it is we are going to do the same amount of work with less."

On Saturday, US Airways Express spokesman Paul Fuehrer said the carrier is scaling back by cutting two flights from its daily schedule. The two flights are at noon and 8:30 p.m.

Ms. Solee, though, said Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier, plans to continue operating their Augusta-Atlanta return at full schedule. "But everything is subject to change," she said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.