Paulding’s airport director is asking county commissioners to end an operating agreement and place the financially-strapped facility again under county government control.
Terry Tibbitts also asked the Paulding County Board of Commissioners Feb. 26 to give the Paulding County Airport Authority a $137,000 annual payment now rather than as scheduled on July 1 so that it can pay its bills.
Tibbitts said the county government already is paying the authority to operate Silver Comet Field airport annually as part of a four-year-old intergovernmental agreement.
The two entities should renegotiate the agreement with a goal of re-establishing the county government’s airport department that formerly operated the facility.
“The intergovernmental agreement needs to be replaced with a new agreement that reflects where we are today and where we want to be in the future, as well as providing adequate funding for airport operation in compliance with our obligations to the FAA,” he said.
The county’s annual payment to the airport was required to grow smaller each year because a separate agreement with a private company that included commercial passenger airline service was supposed to provide the money needed for operations. However, it was not approved by the federal government, he said.
The airport also has been forced to pay legal fees over a number of years which contributed heavily to its poor financial position, he said.
“Today, the airport is left with insufficient operating funds to survive into the future,” Tibbitts said.
Paulding’s airport opened in 2008 as a county government department but failed to attract corporate tenants just as the Great Recession was deepening.
The airport authority then hired a New York-based company in 2012 in an effort to make the airport financially successful as a facility the federal government designated to host commercial passenger airlines.
Voters in 2014 chose a new majority of commissioners who opposed commercialization. Outgoing commissioners who supported commercialization voted in late 2014 for the agreement which gave the authority operational control of the airport and an annual payment from the county.
However, the airport continued to struggle financially after both residents and the new commissioners brought legal actions over a five-year period to halt its efforts to gain federal approval as a commercial airport.
The legal disputes eventually led the Federal Aviation Administration to end consideration of the Paulding board’s requested change from its present designation as a general aviation airport in mid-2018.
Then, late in 2018, the airport authority ended its contract with the company, Silver Comet Terminal Partners, to recruit a commercial passenger airline to the airport as part of a plan for development of adjacent land for aerospace-related industry.
Airport officials said the company had not done enough to recruit tenants to the airport to comply with its contract.
Silver Comet says it worked to recruit tenants but the legal troubles — including a lawsuit by the county commission — and bad publicity from the commercialization effort combined to stop potential customers from considering Paulding airport.
The company also charged in a recent lawsuit the airport authority did not allow it to lease land promised to it in the contract because a state aviation maintenance school planned to locate at the airport.