Short-term lease OK’d for SARA twin hangars

Published 12:30 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The South Alabama Regional Airport Authority on Tuesday agreed to enter a short-term lease with Ronnie Kearns, owner of the Kearns Group, for the airport’s twin hangar facility.

Covington County Economic Development Commission Executive Director Rick Clifton said the Kearns Group has an opportunity to do prototype upgrade work on four C130s.

“He would like to do the work here,” Clifton said, adding the aircraft belong to branches of the military.

“This could get the airport some very good exposure,” he said.

Clifton said if the prototype works, it will be installed with 174 more aircraft, and there would be a possibility that work also could be done at SARA.

“We don’t know what this could lead to,” Clifton said.

The Kearns Group has previously leased facilities at the airport, but Kearns and SARA parted company in a disagreement early last year. The debt on the twin hangars, which were built for a company that proposed C130 work here, is carried by the City of Andalusia, the City of Opp, and Covington County. The three entities, along with SARA chairman Gary Smith, have the final say on contracts.

Opp Mayor Becky Bracke attended the SARA meeting and spoke in favor of the lease.

“I’ve tried to step back and look at this as a business. What would I do if I were the one make the decision? We have nothing. No prospects out there,” she said, adding that if it doesn’t work, “What have we lost?

“If it works, there could be spinoffs,” she said. “My opinion is I would give him a chance. What do we have to lose? We don’t have anything in there right now?”

SARA board member Mike Holloway said there is a “lot to gain” by having a tenant in the hangars.

“If we don’t rent it but a day, that’s money the cities and county don’t have to pay (on the debt),” he said.

SARA board members Chuck Burgess and Donald Barton expressed reservations, but ultimately agreed to a short-term lease with a day rate of $850 per day for the entire facility, with an option of renting only half.

In other business, the board:

  • Agreed to close its fire station, effective Feb. 1, when Vector Aerospace will no longer require around-the-clock firefighting capability. The station will only be closed once memorandums of understanding previously in effect with the Andalusia, Opp and Sanford fire departments are renewed.
  • Agreed to extend a $350,000 line of credit with Southern Independent Bank for an additional six months. The line is currently maxed out.