Concerned about the state of upper airport management, the Midcoast Regional Airport Joint Management Board commissioned a cost-analysis study on Wednesday to determine how to move forward with its leadership.
The decision comes after members discussed complaints from pilots and their own concerns about the upper management and services provided by ABS Aviation Management Services, members expressed in the meeting.
ABS is a Tampa, Fla., company that was founded by Michael A. Hodges. It was brought as the fixed-base operator to aide in the planning of the airport, which opened in 2007, according to LCDA Finance Director Carmen Cole. The airport’s board has engaged in numerous short-term contracts with the company since.
A fixed-base operator is a person, firm or corporation that handles general aviation management tasks including sales, service, rentals, parts, repairs and more, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.
The $10.3 million airport was constructed under the joint efforts of Fort Stewart, the city of Hinesville, the Liberty County Board of Commissioners and the Liberty County Development Authority. Commission Chairman John McIver, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas and LCDA Chairman Allen Brown comprise the airport’s local joint management board.
County Administrator Joey Brown and Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards also attended the meeting as advisory members.
The members unanimously expressed concern over whether they were getting operational support services and marketing from ABS to the full extent the contract required. Under the current contract, ABS receives $50,000 per year in management fees and $6,000 for marketing.
“I’ve talked to some of the pilots out there, and my concern is this: We’ve got an airport that’s supported by general aviation, and we don’t want to lose our general aviation support,” Thomas said.
“I think our principal purpose in hiring ABS was to have an aviation specialty company come in so that we could recruit a number of aviation services we didn’t have, and hopefully improve the airport to the point that we were competitive with others,” he continued. “Right now, that doesn’t seem to be the case. We don’t seem to have received any particular benefit from ABS running it, and we’ve had several complaints.”
Now, the board will ask staff to complete an analysis to identify the costs and benefits of three possible outcomes: drawing a new contract with ABS, hiring a new fixed-base operator or taking on management duties while outsourcing marketing.
At the beginning of the month, a pilot voiced concerns about Hodges’ leadership style to the board. Keith Gay, president of the Coastal Empire Flight Training Academy, also expressed to the board that he felt a personality conflict with the leadership.
The flight academy discontinued its operations at the airport in July due to financial issues, Cole said.
The airport’s staff is currently supplied through ABS, but their salaries are paid from the airport’s operational budget, with revenue from its own fuel sales and hangar rentals and support from its governing entities, Cole said.
In their discussions, the board members emphasized that they have heard only positive feedback about each of the airport’s employees and that they are especially pleased with manager Charlie Martin.
Meanwhile, the board will offer the current fixed-base operator, or aviation manager, a six-month
extension on its contract, which currently runs through Sept. 30.
The board also is in the process of looking into fuel providers for service. In a June meeting, Hodges advised the board that the current fuel provider, British Petroleum, had recommended the airport transition to a smaller fuel company.