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MCRA to test lower fuel prices
Board also mulls charging for utilities, enacts pilot programs
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With plummeting aviation numbers for the first quarter of 2012, the MidCoast Regional Airport local joint management board approved projects May 29 aimed at boosting operations and fuel sales.

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

From January to March this year, the airport had 660 civilian operations, down from 1,027 in the same time last year.

In 2011, the airport had 2,598 total civilian operations — defined as either a takeoff or a landing — down from 5,270 in 2010 and 6,350 in 2009.

“In the last month — and really, everything this year — has been somewhat of a challenge throughout the industry …,” Hodges said. “There was a downward trend, and there also were some concerns relative to the fuel pricing.”

Weekly fuel surveys of nearby airports indicate that MCRA prices for full-service Avgas are well below the average, while self-serve Avgas prices are above the average and well above nearby airports, and that Jet A full-service prices are below average but above nearby competing airports.

Board members John McIver, Allen Brown and Jim Thomas discussed possible reasons for the operation trend during the last few years and its current downturn. Thomas said he anticipates operations will increase once Fort Stewart’s fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles arrives in the fall, as the companies that own them will visit frequently to test and assess their operations.

On recommendation from Hodges, the board approved a 60-day trial period wherein they will reduce fuel prices for self-serve Avgas to be more in line with competitors. The reduced-price period will help identify whether pricing is a factor in the decrease in operations or fuel sales.

The board also approved two programs already widely used by pilots: the Avfuel AVTRIP program and Avfuel Contract Fuel.

Under AVTRIP, participating pilots receive points for every gallon of fuel they purchase, where a standard purchase is two points per gallon; buying more than necessary gets four points per gallon, and topping off their tank gets them six points per gallon. Accumulated points can be redeemed for items such as savings bonds. The airport must pay one penny for each point awarded with a two-point minimum.

While the airport will lose an estimated $3.20 off gross profit from an 80-gallon fuel sale, Hodges said it is widely known to boost sale volumes. The program applies to all fuel types at MCRA.  

The contract program allows pilots to purchase fuel at-cost plus a set margin agreed between Avfuel and the airport, which often undercuts standard retail prices, Hodges said.

After the meeting, he said both programs are likely to take effect within the next couple of weeks.

In looking at budget numbers for the upcoming fiscal year, the board also discussed the possibility of charging tenants to its 12 T-hangars and five box hangars for the water and electricity they use.

Tenants currently are not charged for utilities, but the airport has paid $3,679 in power bills for the hangars since July 1.
The board did not vote on the measure.

As proposed, the tentative budget would require a $102,854 shared contribution from Liberty County, the Liberty County Development Authority and the city of Hinesville, resulting in $34,285 from each.

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