County commissioners have handed over responsibility for managing the airport to an established Tennessee fixed base operator.
At the Tuesday morning meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to award Crystal Air, Inc. of Chattanooga the position of FBO for the Apalachicola Regional Airport, beginning Nov. 1. Crystal Air was recommended for the position by the airport committee on Sept. 18 after a review of four applicants. The other three included Trident Aircraft of Gulf Shores, Ala., Apalachee Winds of Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Fly High Apalachicola, of Lexington, North Carolina, a company making a second try at the contract after negotiations fell apart after it was awarded the contract earlier this year.
Since the former FBO Bill Ruic left in April, Perky White and Ted Mosteller have acted as interim operators, but the county had to choose a permanent contractor by Nov. 1, or provide White and Mosteller with benefits as full-time county employees.
At their last meeting, the commission earmarked $900 to provide Mosteller and White with additional temporary help when Mosteller told them he would be forced to shut the airport down without more manpower.
Under the proposed five-year lease with Crystal Air, the county will receive $5,000 plus 7 percent sales tax for a total of $5,350 monthly.
“The Crystal Air contract will more than cover the fixed costs of running the airport,” said Alan Pierce, director of administrative services, Tuesday afternoon. He said the county will continue to receive additional income from the rental of two commercial hangers at the airport.
Pierce said the proposed lease was written by Avcon, the county’s aviation consultant, and must be reviewed by an attorney specializing in aviation law before the transaction is finalized. He said he doesn’t expect any problem with the lease.
Crystal Air is a family company. Director of Operations Taylor Newman owns 96 percent of the stock and his parents the remaining 4 percent. The company was founded as an aircraft and heavy equipment rental company when Newman was 18, but by the time he finished his bachelor’s in aviation administration, the focus had narrowed to aviation.
Crystal Air is currently FBO at three airports. They have operated at Franklin County Airport in Sewanee, Tenn. since 2003; Cleveland Municipal Airport, also in Tennessee, since 2007 and Dalton Municipal Airport in Georgia since 2008.
They provide other services at airports in Sparta and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Crystal Air offers services including aircraft rental and maintenance, flight training and charter service in addition to FBO operations.
Newman said his company provides charter flights to anywhere in the US and regularly scheduled flights between Destin, Panama City, Chattanooga and Memphis.
It is uncertain which services Crystal Air will bring to the county airport. The company plans to assess what needs exist at Apalachicola Regional Airport while providing FBO service.
Newman said they will bring in an FBO manager initially but hopes to fill other positions from the local workforce. “We like to train local folks so they have a vested interest,” he said.
He does not anticipate raising fuel costs. “We’ll look at it and see if it’s where it should be,’ Neman said. “I imagine it is.”
Plans to upgrade service in the short haul include making rental cars available to incoming pilots and adding aircraft maintenance staff. But Newman said he is in no hurry to make changes.
“We usually take our time in hiring pilots and mechanics,” he said. “We want a good fit. We want them to stay a while.
“We plan to increase the level of service,” he said. “We would like to attract some additional aircraft to the airport. I believe you have space.”
While he has no plans to locate a charter aircraft here immediately, Newman said he may bring a plane in next summer and is considering offering air tours of the area similar to the recreational tours his company offers in Tennessee.
“Apalachicola has a good look from the air compared to a lot of Florida,” he said. “The lack of commercialization has an appeal for a lot of people.”
Crystal Air is planning a community welcome party for December to make people aware of the airport and its new FBO. “We like to work with local civic organizations,” Newman said.
Newman told commissioners Crystal Air keeps a daily account of planes landing, launching and in storage, s well as fuel sales and maintenance work. He said he had no objection to providing commissioners monthly reports.
Newman plans to hit the ground running before Nov.1. He and an FBO manager will arrive on Monday, Oct. 29. “We’re getting there a few days early,” he said. “We want to make sure we’ve got our best foot forward.”