At a special meeting Sept. 29, county commissioners voted unanimously to award a five-year contract to Centric Aviation of New Jersey to operate Apalachicola Regional Airport.
They instructed County Coordinator Michael Morón and Airport Manager Jason Puckett to begin lease negotiations. The lease terms will be subject to approval by County Attorney Michael Shuler.
Centric’s package was one of only two received to a response for RFQs (requests for qualifications) for the fixed base operator(FBO) contract for the airport, also known as Randolph Field. The other came from Crystal Air of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is at the end of a five year stint as FBO at the airport.
County Chair Smokey Parrish asked Puckett if Centric planned to continue to employ local residents who work at the airport. Puckett said current employees would be “needed, especially for the transition.”
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Tara Maugham, a spokesperson for Centric, said she and Andrew Hartman, who are listed as managing members of Centric in the RFQ, will visit Randolph Field next week, and will discuss the goals and expectations of Centric with the airport staff.
“We’re a company that is committed to providing exceptional service and we’re really going to try to market that,” Maugham said.
She said Centric is committed to putting the right staff in place and providing employees with National Air Transportation Association’s Safety 1st training.
She said Samantha Foy will be on-site FBO manager in Apalachicola, and will relocate here from New Jersey. According to the RFQ, Foy attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Daytona Beach and holds a bachelors degree in aeronautical science, with a minor in applied meteorology.
Maugham said she and Hartman plan to visit the airport monthly, attend community meetings and become active in community activities. Neither of them will be salaried employees of Randolph Field.
“So many companies come in and offer the world but in six months or a year they run into problems,” Commissioner Noah Lockley said. He asked Puckett and Morón if an agreement had been reached about the rent on Randolph Field.
Puckett said he is trying to make the deal equitable for Centric. He pointed out that the county was forced to halve the original rent from $5000 to $2,500 monthly, less than two years after signing a lease with Crystal Air. In addition, Crystal Air received a percentage of every gallon of aviation fuel it sold.
Commissioner Cheryl Sanders said new state legislation may lead to increased financial needs at the airport.
Maugham said Centric plans to upgrade services and amenities for pilots at Randolph Field, including providing short-term use crew cars and catering services. The county owns a crew car which is kept on site.
Maugham said immediate plans are to do some cosmetic changes like painting and neatening the grounds. Future plans include opening a restaurant and sponsoring community events including educational outreach.
She said she is negotiating with Hertz and Enterprise to provide rental cars on site. Crystal Air attempted to provide rental cars but was forced to cancel the service. Cars can now be ordered 24-hours in advance from Enterprise in Panama City, and they will deliver them to Apalachicola.
Foy, Hartman and Maugham all now work for Flight 411 Aviation which has managed South Jersey Regional Airport since 2011. The airport belongs to the state of New Jerseywhich bought it out of a bankruptcy. It has a restaurant, the “Runway Café” and a newly formed flight club, Windwalkers.” Fuel and repair services are available, and flight training is planned, for South Jersey.
Hartman and Maugham formed Centric Aviation as a Florida corporation on Sept. 25. Maugham said they chose to use a different name because they wanted to create a separate brand for Randolph Field.
Maugham said Centric plans to advertise through social media and word of mouth.