Airport may ask cities, county for debt help

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

County and municipal governments in Covington County may be called upon to help the South Alabama Regional Airport Authority (SARA) service the debt on structures recently vacated by EJM.

SARA co-executive director Jed Blackwell and SARA member Mike Holloway met with the Andalusia City Council last night, at the council’s request, to bring members up to date on airport operations.

Blackwell explained that when the airport agreed in 2005 to build a facility for EJM, Covington County, the City of Andalusia and the City of Opp agreed to secure the bond. Blackwell said if a tenant is not found for the facility, the three governments may be asked to help make the $27,512 monthly payment on the building until the bond can be refinanced. He said the airport authority has the cash to make the payment through January 2010, but may seek help with a portion of the debt after that. The 2005 agreement calls for the county to be responsible for 50 percent, Andalusia 30 percent, and Opp 20 percent.

EJM occupied the building and partnered with Sierra Nevada. Sierra Nevada executed an option in the EJM lease for a second or twin hangar to be constructed. That company left before EJM ended the lease agreement.

Mayor Earl Johnson said some progress was made Tuesday, and that the airport authority is negotiating with Vector Aerospace to remain in its new facility and add an addition to it, or to move to the twin hangars known as the EJM facility. While the twin hangars provide the space Vector immediately needs for expansion, Johnson said the facility is “overbuilt” for rotary wing aircraft, or helicopters.

“We’d like to see an expansion of Vector where they are and secure additional tenants for the hangars,” Johnson said.

Holloway explained that while leasing the hangars to Vector provides an immediate solution for both parties, it creates a long-term problem in that Vector’s current facility would only work for rotary wing aircraft.

“Basically, you’d be looking for someone to compete with them and I’m sure they don’t want that,” Holloway said. “A lot comes into play. It’s not just a cut-and-dried decision.”

Johnson, Holloway and Blackwell all agreed that having the hangars, which can accommodate extremely large aircraft for maintenance, make it easier to market the airport.

Holloway said the closest airport with comparable hangars for large aircraft is Atlanta.

“We have quite a reputation at our airport,” Holloway said.

Blackwell said there are 90 to 100 aircraft in and out of SARA daily.

“Most of those are rotary-wing aircraft from Ft. Rucker,” he said.

The local airport has a government refueling contract, and competes with airports in Troy and in Florala for the air traffic. Blackwell explained that, because of the relationship, there are 14 soldiers stationed in Andalusia for air traffic control services at SARA.

He said there are 542 employees who work in the airport industrial park, including:

Evans Machine and Gear — 7

Filtration Manufacturing, Inc. — 16

Sitel — 390

Yoder Brake — 10

Enterprise Ozark Aviation College — 1


R&B Aviation, Inc — 1

Vector Aerospace — 95

Airport Authority — 20