After a year of turmoil, it appears that the Apalachicola Regional Airport is finally back on track.
In February, on the recommendation of the airport advisory board, the county commission decided it would seek bids for a new fixed base operator (FBO) for Apalachicola’s airport. The contract with Apalachicola International Airport Training Center (AIATC) expired Feb 1, but commissioners granted AIATC a three month extension. Bill Ruic, CEO, who had acted as FBO for 20 years would remain in control until May 1.
On Feb 21, the commission voted 3-1 to award the FBO contract to Fly High of Lexington, NC. Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed and Bevin Putnal was absent. The commission directed County Attorney Michael Shuler to enter into negotiations with Fly High.
AIATC took fruitless legal steps attempting to block the change.
When commissioners quarreled with Fly High over the terms of the lease, Fly High withdrew their offer and the commission found itself without a new FBO as the clock ticked.
In March, two more firms offered proposals to run the airport. Both claimed to have extensive plans for refurbishment and promised to bring new jobs to the area.
James Lawrence, CEO and president of Grace International, a firm that reportedly manufactured shipping containers, proposed to move the administrative arm of his Tennessee-based business here.
Robert Riegle CEO of Stratcorp, a purveyor of information technology, told commissioners his St. Petersburg-based firm would use the airport as a fixed operating base for Apalach Regional Training Complex (ARTIC), a subsidiary that provides training for police and military agencies and tests military equipment.
On March 6, commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Noah Lockley opposed, to enter into negotiations with Grace.
When Grace proved to be a paper tiger whose status as a Tennessee limited liability corporation (LLC) was revoked in August 2011 for failure to file a 2010 annual report, negotiations again fell through.
The commission continued to communicate with both Grace and Fly High but no agreement was reached.
On May 1, the commission had failed to fill the post of FBO and operations at the airport ground to a halt.
County commissioners learned the telephone at the airport had been disconnected and the website for the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) stated that no fuel or other services are available. They decided to try an interim, local solution for managing the airport, and end negotiations with Grace and Fly High.
By unanimous agreement, with Cheryl Sanders patched in by telephone due to her recovery from hip surgery, the commissioners voted at a May 9 special meeting to have Ted Mosteller, airport manager and chairman of the airport advisory committee, assume the duties of running the airport. Mosteller recruited mechanic Perky White of Port St. Joe to help. Under Mosteller’s supervision things went smoothly. AVweb, an online newsletter about aviation, named the Apalachicola Regional Airport’s temporary fixed base operator “FBO of the Week,” for Aug. 27 through Sept. 2, as part of the newsletter’s ongoing award series.
But the commission was still under the gun. Mosteller could only serve the county as an interim manager for six months. After that, the county would be forced to replace him or make him a regular full-time employee.
Once again, the county went out for bids.
At the August 21 meeting, the commissioners opened four proposals to operate the Apalachicola Regional Airport.
Applicants included Apalachee Winds Aviation, of South Carolina. Trident Aircraft of Gulf Shores, Ala. and Crystal Air of Chattanooga, Tenn. also sent proposal packages. Once again, Fly High presented a package.
The proposals were sent to the airport board for review. On Sept. 18 they recommended Crystal Air.
On Sept.19, commissioners voted unanimously to award Crystal Air the position of FBO, beginning Nov. 1.
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 the focus later 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 took possession of its newest lease on November 1 without fanfare and has already begun cleaning up and renovating the terminal and grounds.