No. 6 News Story of the Year: 2012 brings airport growth, struggles
BERRYVILLE -- The last year held progress and struggle for the Carroll County Airport.
The Flight School of the Ozarks opened in April, and has met success in its first year. Airport Commissioners officially dedicated the two-year-old terminal in September, and commissioners have hatched ambitious plans for the years ahead.
Still, 2012 also held frustration, as commissioners contended with budget cuts and butted heads with other county officials over regulatory compliance and the airport manager's position.
The Flight School of the Ozarks began enrolling students at the airport this year. The business, owned and operated by Danny and Gayla Hendricks, offers flight instruction for people of all ages and all skill levels.
Danny Hendricks, currently the sole instructor for the school, is a third generation pilot whose dad used to fly hops between rigs for oil companies.
He started his aviation career as a crew chief for the C-130 Hercules in Operation Desert Storm and, after leaving the Air Force, became a corporate pilot. He has been a flight instructor for nearly 20 years.
Despite the short life of his new venture, Hendricks told commissioners in August he had already enrolled 11 full-time students, and Hendricks and commissioners are already looking toward the future.
The pilot has told commissioners he plans to add at least one additional flight instructor in the spring. In addition, Airport Commission Chairman Dave Teigan announced in August plans to expand the school.
"We don't have any specific details yet," Teigan said then. However, he has told commissioners the expansion will tentatively include the construction of eight new, "state of the art" hangars.
He said the flight school would provide some capital for the project, which would then be used to secure matching grants from the state. In return, the company would agree to lease the finished facilities for a time.
Commissioners marked another milestone in September, when they officially dedicated the airport terminal to the original Carroll County Airport Commission, formed in 1964.
The terminal was designed by architects from Modus Studio in Fayetteville, Ark. They received an award by the American Institute of Architects for the design, which was modeled after a World War II F4U Corsair airplane. The building received more recognition his year, when it was featured by online architectural source Arch Daily.
The terminal was dedicated during the Cajun Lunch Fly-in, which attracted scores of pilots from across the country and also featured cajun cuisine, flight simulator demonstrations by the Flight School of the Ozarks, and other festivities.
In August, Teigan announced that the airport had received a $45,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin construction of a fence along the airport's perimeter.
The grant money will be used to lay the groundwork for actual construction, by negotiating easements with surrounding property owners. Additional funding would be necessary to complete the project.
Teigan said the fence, once complete, would help eliminate the hazard of deer wandering onto the runway.
This fall, the airport became a branded fuel distributor for Shell. Under the terms of the one-year contract, the airport agreed to purchase fuel exclusively from Eastern Aviation, the fuel distributor for the oil giant.
In return, Teigan said, the airport received a $3,500 bonus to be used for marketing, an additional $50 million in liability coverage for their fuel systems, and marketing assistance.
Teigan has also said the move would help ensure the consistency and quality of fuel for the airport.
"One of our big liabilities, in being unbranded, (was that) we didn't know what quality of fuel we were getting," Teigan said. Previously, the airport had no protection if they purchased a tank full of bad fuel. "We'd have to eat it," he said. "Now, Shell will eat it."
In order to broker the deal, the airport had to have at least $1 million in liability coverage. The airport satisfied this condition earlier in the year by purchasing a $1 million insurance policy.
Evans and Teigan have said the coverage provided by Carroll County -- the airport's owner -- was insufficient and left the airport and, by extension, the County with serious liability issues.
This year was not all smooth sailing for the airport, however. In addition to progress, 2012 brought challenges.
Commissioners butted heads with county officials over the occupation of an airport facility by the Office of Emergency Management in the fall. Airport officials said the occupation jeopardized $1.6 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Those grants, received over the past 20 years, carry certain obligations. Among these are requirements that the airport be as self sufficient as possible and that airport facilities be used only for aviation related purposes.
On Nov. 19, commissioners tentatively agreed to allow the county to stay in the facility for the next year in exchange for some $6,600 of in-kind road work on airport property -- an agreement they said would likely satisfy the FAA.
While awaiting a verdict from the agency, the county elected to ensure compliance by vacating the facility.
The tension between airport and other county officials was aggravated by a debate over whether the airport manager should be considered a county employee.
Justices of the Peace have contended the manager should not be considered a county employees, noting that state law gives the commission nearly total autonomy over airport operations -- including the right to hire, fire, and set compensation for employees.
JPs have suggested the Airport Commission must surrender this authority if the county is going to continue to fund the position. Commissioners have rejected this argument so far.
Despite the struggles, commissioners continued to lay plans for the future in 2012.
In addition to the planned expansion of the Flight School of the Ozarks, commissioners hope to extend the runway at the airport, a move that would allow light jets to fly into Carroll County. Such traffic is currently discouraged by insurance policies that do not cover accidents that occur on shorter runways.