County insists on evaluating economic impact.
At their first meeting of the new year on Jan. 31, Airport Authority members agreed that keeping an accurate database of planes coming in and out of the airport is a good idea, believing it will show how valuable the facility is to the local economy. After receiving a $2.3 million grant from federal aviation funds, allocated out by the NCDOT Division of Aviation, county commissioners doled out over $200,000 to match the federal grant. The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the match, but asked Airport Authority chairman, Milles Gregory, if the Authority could keep an accurate record of the number of planes using the facility. In early January, Gregory told board members that they would be more than willing to take up the task.
In the past, the county looked at fuel sales to gauge the airport’s economic impact. But fuel sales data can be skewed in either direction depending on the size of the planes using the facility. Commissioner Bobby Kuppers, liaison to the Airport Authority, requested that Authority members take up the new initiative that he believes will attest to the tangible benefits of the airport, and give citizens an idea of who is using the facility.
“We would like to count planes,” said commissioner Kuppers at the Airport Authority meeting last Tuesday afternoon. “We would like to see if we can analyze what the impact of the runway is and what the impact of the airport is to the county, both from a visitation standpoint and perhaps an EDC standpoint,” he said. Kuppers added that the board would like to receive data from the airport on a quarterly basis. “We would love to have it by the second Tuesday in each new quarter,” said Commissioner Kuppers to Authority members, but he also recognized that data from January-March might be difficult to assess since they are just now implementing the policy in February.
The county will receive its first traffic report from the Airport Authority in April, but an objective assessment of the statistics cannot be evaluated until commissioners receive more quarterly reports. From there, after several traffic reports are submitted to commissioners, county leaders can better judge what the airport is bringing to Macon County.
Neil Hoppe, manager of the airport’s terminal, told the Authority that he and his staff are devising a method to meet the board’s request. “We were talking about a method at the front counter of tracking inbound and outbound flights on a daily basis,” he said. Kuppers responded to Hoppe, “anything else that you think would be useful data that is indicative of the health of the airport, or the utility of the airport to the county, or the impact of the airport to EDC would be very valuable to us.” Board members want as much information as possible, but at the very least, they are mandating an accurate traffic report from now on, according to Commissioner Kuppers.
Commissioners believe the quarterly reports will demonstrate the effectiveness of the airport in terms of economic development. “They know that it is doing a good thing for the county,” said Commissioner Kuppers. “They know that it is doing a good thing, they just want to be able to quantify it. It’s not that they don’t think the numbers aren’t going to support what they believe. They just want to be able to quantify it from now on,” he said. He went on to ask, “What’s landing here that wouldn’t be landing here without the extra 500 feet?,” he said. “So if it’s a significantly large aircraft that’s coming in here, we would like to know that too,” stated Kuppers in expressing his desire to have as much information as possible for commissioners to examine.
Commissioners would also like to narrow the traffic report data down to jets and single propellers in order to evaluate the exact utilization of the airport. “There is a big difference between a single engine plane and a corporate jet,” said Airport Authority member Harold Corbin. “I think that will tell us a lot about our progress of late,” he said, referencing the runway extension project completed last May that enables the airport to attract corporate size jets. EDC Director and Authority member, Tommy Jenkins, noted that the airport receives a lot of traffic from business leaders in Highlands as well, and expressed a favorable opinion of receiving that data in the future for county economic development efforts.
While it is impossible for the airport to account for every plane coming into the facility, Airport Authority members and county commissioners think the initiative will reveal the airport’s effectiveness in relative terms. “We should look at this as an opportunity to actually sell our product, which is this airport,” said Kuppers about the board’s request for the airport’s traffic data.
Authority members received more good news before adjourning, as Franklin’s airport was recognized for being the “FBO of the Week” by AV-web, an independent aviation news organization. FBO stands for fixed base operators. Gerry McCarley, a regular user of Macon County’s airport, offered his comments about Franklin’s facility on AV-web’s website.
“I visit Franklin Aviation several times a year. Their customer care and service are some of the best I have found,” wrote McCarley. “On a recent visit (over Christmas) the weather changed, and snow/ice was forecast. Without my asking, Neil and his people found space in their hanger and kept my airplane inside over that night. Their fuel prices are competitive, and with the new extended runway and GPS approach, it’s one of the best places to stop,” ended McCarley.
“I’m convinced that some of our critics are going to realize what an asset this airport has been and will be to Macon County,” said Authority chairman Milles Gregory before concluding the meeting.