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MCRA board talks rental cars, flight school
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From tile floors to fuel sales to flight schools, the MidCoast Regional Airport’s Joint Management Board tackled a host of issues during its meeting last week.

The board discussed information from Hertz and Enterprise about allowing an outside car rental agency to provide service to the airport.

Each provider is willing to leave a vehicle on-site for rental as well as arrange for drop-offs, according to emails submitted on behalf of both companies to Jessica Hood, project manager for the LCDA. Both offered the airport a commission, as well.

After discussing the companies, the board voted to request a contract from Hertz and submit it to attorney Kelly Davis for review. Before being finalized, the contract also will go before Fort Stewart Army JAG for approval.

Michael A. Hodges, president of the airport’s fixed-base operator company ABS Aviation Management Services, presented operations trends that show a downturn in airport usage from last year.

From January to August, the airport had 1,888 operations — defined as a single takeoff or a single landing — compared with 3,693 during the same period in 2010.

“Those operation trends are very sobering and disturbing — is that nationwide?” LCDA CEO Ron Tolley asked.
“Unfortunately, it is,” Hodges said. “It’s a cause of great concern in the industry.”

Hodges said that factors such as weather and the economy influence the amount of aviation traffic nationwide. He cited recent hurricane activity and economic uncertainty as reasons for low numbers in August.

“It seems to me that after every economic downturn in the country, you’ll find general aviation takes a hit because generally, people are not going to spend money flying unless they have to,” Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. “But as the economy turns back up, you’ll see that the economy goes back into it. … I think we just have to keep moving in that direction and keep our airport attractive enough to keep people in it.” 

Despite the downturn in airport usage, MCRA has maintained considerable fuel sales, Hodges added. Making the switch from Air BP to Avfuel as a fuel provider should keep costs down and prevent a decrease in sales, he added.

The Terrell Mill Pond Fire is another factor in the maintained fuel sales, even causing a spike in July, when jet fuel sales jumped from 563 gallons the previous month to 4,153 gallons. 

“Those guys are going to be here for another — as long as it doesn’t rain,” Thomas said. “The peat moss is down 50 feet under the ground, so it’s going to continue to burn a long time. They’re pouring a quarter of a million gallons a day of reused water into that mill pond.”

The group also heard from MidCoast Aviation Services, a recently formed flight group managed by George Hitt, Bobby Smith and Kathy Boykin, about the possibility of opening another flight academy in the airport.

The previous flight school, Coastal Empire Flight Training Academy, discontinued its operations at the airport in July, citing financial difficulties.

But in her presentation, Boykin — who owned Pegasus Air based in Statesboro before selling the company and retiring — said she has heard from upwards of 15 soldiers interested in using the GI Bill to pay for flight training.

Boykin also spoke about the possibility of opening a computer-assisted testing service center, which offers Federal Aviation Administration examinations in addition to tests for chefs, court reporters and more.

Centers in Savannah and Statesboro have closed in recent years, and the closest testing center currently is in Douglas, she said.

The board requested that representatives from MidCoast Aviation draft two separate proposals for their consideration, one for the CATS Center and another for the flight school operations. They will revisit the topics in future meetings. 

The group also voted on a solid-bodied porcelain tile to be laid in the airport’s main lobby and hallways, an area roughly 3,000 square feet.

The change is both a cosmetic and practical one, as the current flooring is beginning to pull up and shows wear, according to Carmen Cole, LCDA director of finance and administration.

The selected tile is made for durable indoor-outdoor use and textured to prevent slipping, according to Diane Kroell, interior designer for the Savannah company Designs by Diane.

The cost for the tile and labor would run about $50,000, according to an estimate from about two years ago, County Manager Joey Brown said. Partners are looking to use remaining SPLOST funds from the original project to fund the work.

Voting members Commission Chairman John McIver, Thomas and LCDA Chairman Allen Brown selected the tile unanimously. The group will request proposals for supply and labor from tiling companies.

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