Horry County Department of Airports Conundrum

January 5, 2015 9:02 AMViews: 1257

By Paul Gable

Setting minimum standards for general aviation airports in Horry County requires more than Horry County government’s typical “Independent Republic” approach.

Too much is at stake for Horry County government and its Department of Airports to assume it can do whatever it wants to do with respect to the treatment afforded to businesses conducting general aviation aeronautical activities at the county’s airports.

Accepting FAA grant money (of which Horry County receives millions every year) and free land conveyance of former Air Force property brings with it certain requirements of and assurances from the county, most importantly that the airport and its facilities must be available for public use in a non-discriminatory manner.

The following extracts are from FAA Advisory Circular 150/5190-7 whose subject is “Minimum Standards for Commercial Aeronautical Activities.” Applicable federal laws are:  49 U.S.C. § 47101, et seq., and the Airport Improvement Program Sponsor Assurances.

  1. The owner or operator of any airport (airport sponsor) that has been developed or improved with Federal grant assistance or conveyances of Federal property assistance is required to operate the airport for the use and benefit of the public and to make it available for all types, kinds, and classes of aeronautical activity.
  2. Federal law requires that recipients of Federal grants (administered by the FAA) sign a grant agreement or covenant in a conveyance of property that sets out the obligations that an airport sponsor assumes in exchange for Federal assistance.
  3. …these Federal obligations involve several distinct requirements. Most important is that the airport and its facilities must be available for public use as an airport. The terms imposed on those who use the airport and its services must be reasonable and applied without unjust discrimination,…
  4. Skydiving is an aeronautical activity. Any restriction, limitation, or ban on skydiving on the airport must be based on the grant assurance that provides that the airport sponsor may prohibit or limit aeronautical use for the safe operation of the airport (subject to FAA approval).

Reasonable treatment without unjust discrimination does not appear to always be the attitude of Horry County’s Department of Airports.

Horry County currently finds itself in litigation with Skydive Myrtle Beach for, among other allegations, discriminatory treatment.

A February 19, 2014 letter (referred to in a previous article) from the Horry County Attorney’s Office to Skydive Myrtle Beach offered a “Short Term Space Use Permit” for the “CRE hangar” at Grand Strand Airport.

Among the various requirements outlined in the letter was a fee for use of the space of “$1,200 per month or 24% of gross revenues, whichever is greater.”

HCDA’s lease with Huffman Helicopters, approved by county council approximately one year ago, requires 5% of gross revenues.

How is requesting 24% of one business’ gross revenues vs. 5% of another business’ gross revenues at all reasonable and applied without unjust discrimination?

(It must be noted that Skydive Myrtle Beach is only required to pay $1200 per month while litigation with HCDA is ongoing, but the intent of HCDA’s offer, before litigation commenced, is extremely questionable.)

Before Horry County Council gives further approval to HCDA’s amendment to its minimum standards for general aviation airports, it should take a closer look at whether HCDA is functioning in accordance FAA requirements and, if not, why not.

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