Airport committee talks reforms at first 2015 meeting
Problems at Cornelius-Moore field discussed, fixes for fuel pumps and inspections of hangars up first
The first meeting of the re-established airport committee came together to organize and discuss what should be done with Polk County’s runway and hangars off Highway 278 at Airport Road.
Polk County Commission chair gave commissioners Scotty Tillery and Ray Barber the assignment of re-establishing the airport committee with the mandate to make Polk County’s runway and facilities great again.
Tillery, who is chairing the committee, called in a citizen’s advisory panel of local pilots to help with the coming work required for the Polk County airport.
Among those who met on Thursday, Aug. 27 to start figuring out the future of the airport were Derek and Vernon Miller, Leroy Pew, Robert Cannon, George Tanner, Tommy Britt and Jonathan Stitt. Many of those on the panel were also part of the previous committee which was left to linger during past commissions.
Now back to work, the committee has a laundry list of problems to address at the airport, some of which are already underway or scheduled through GDOT Aviation to be funded for fixes.
However, large among those that needs immediate attention is the way that planes can fuel in Polk County.
Currently, the county relies on self-service pumps at the airport to
fuel smaller planes with regular aviation gasoline, while larger ones with more powerful engines require the use of a pressurized fuel truck carrying a Jet-A mixture to gas up tanks.
Most of the problems are with the self-serve pumps, which require a lot of trial and error to get to work correctly with credit cards.
Committee members told county manager Matt Denton that in the past, when the pump has been fixed it works for a day and then something else happens requiring another repair.
“They have never worked right since they were installed,” said Cannon.
Denton explained that when the fuel farm was installed, state DOT officials in the aviation department required contracts for all local airports to go to the lowest bidder on the project, which in this case was Cobb Environmental.
“The fuel farm cost us $325,000, and in order to get any potential reimbursement from the state DOT we had to go with the low bidder by their rules,” he said. “But I wouldn’t recommend them to install a light bulb.”
The system – which is more than a year and a half old – is no longer under warranty and each time it requires repair, the county has to call in Cobb Environmental and be charged for mileage and hours worked.
Tillery asked the panel and committee to seek out others who might be able to fix the pumps without involving Cobb Environmental.
Stitt also told the committee that work needs to be done soon on pumps connected to the fuel tanks. The pumps keep ground and rainwater from getting mixed in with the gas.
Complaints about gas prices at the airport were chief among the panel’s first comments during the Aug. 28 session, with questions as to why Polk’s prices are higher than those at Rome’s Richard B. Russell field and in Carrollton.
Denton told committee members the county was somewhat limited in what actions can be taken as far as fuel costs are concerned. Currently, the airport is only allowed to make enough money to operate and no more.
Any profits the airport makes, say off the sale of aviation fuel, has to go right back into investments into the airport. Good for the long term, when big bills like the fuel farm come up, but not good for trying to lower prices to compete with other airports in the area buying more fuel at a time.
“We can’t legally make more money than it takes to run it, which means we also can’t lower fuel prices to remain competitive, because it can’t cost us any more money to run the airport either than it already does,” he said.
Tillery said that fuel costs will be discussed in future meetings, but that immediate priorities needed to be placed on the pumps, replacing lighting to guide plans coming in on the runway, an update of airport policy and maintaining a clean area.
He also wanted to look into problems with the hangars and plane storage.
With several spaces open, Tillery said one way to attract people back to the airport is being competitive with pricing on places for area residents to house their planes.
Dividing the newly formed panel into two groups along with himself and Barber, they were tasked to give the airport an inspection of all hangars and buildings to determine what needs to be done, especially in terms of repairs, to make rentals attractive again.
Some of the long term goals of the group are already in a five year capital improvement plan put down on paper by state officials. However, Denton said those plans change from year to year based on state spending priorities.
However, according to the document from the state, money is currently being spent to clear more glide path space for planes coming in and out of the airport, costing a total of $561,000 mostly in federal and state dollars, with less than $30,000 matching costs from county coffers. Work on that is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
In the coming years, runway aprons, taxiways and a lengthening of the landing strip by 1,000 feet will also be in the works, so long as state priorities remain as they are.
By 2020, the state will finally reimburse the up-front costs of the fuel farm to the tune of $329,862.
The committee plans to meet again and report back on the several items discussed in mid-October.
The newly reformed airport committee met on Thursday, Aug. 27.