Middle Georgia Regional Airport OK'ed for Commercial Flights

Middle Georgia Regional Airport passed muster with federal inspectors Thursday and will stay open for commercial flights.

The news came one day before today's Transportation Security Administration deadline at the embattled airport, which city officials and a private company brought in to improve airport security have been scrambling to keep open.

"The airport is now in full compliance with all TSA regulations, and we look forward to working with them in maintaining their compliance," TSA spokesman Christopher White said.

White added that the TSA "will be monitoring the airport carefully to make sure they do maintain compliance."

And he emphasized the word "carefully."

Middle Georgia Regional was hit with a series of TSA and Federal Aviation Administration violations last year. It cleared an FAA deadline in February, which city officials have said probably couldn't have been done without help from TBI Airport Management, the private company brought in on an emergency contract in late February to get the airport into compliance.

TBI and city officials spent weeks working with federal inspectors, addressing various violations, redrafting security documents and training city airport employees as well employees of private companies who rent space at the airport.

"We were just relieved and glad that we were able to meet the deadline and meet all the requirements," Macon Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie said Thursday. "Everyone had a role - TBI, the airport operations manager - the TSA inspector helped us out a lot. We all worked together."

But the airport remains at a crossroads. Mayor Jack Ellis has said he'll assign a committee to study how to proceed - specifically, whether the city should pay TBI to stay on and run Middle Georgia Regional as well as the smaller Macon Downtown Airport, or hire a new director to manage day-to-day operations. TBI's current contract runs out next week.

The city has paid the company about $43,500 so far, according to a cost summary McDuffie provided to council members Thursday. That covers more than 338 working hours for six TBI employees during roughly the past month, according to McDuffie's summary.

The total cost of the contract is expected to be between $88,000 and $94,000, according to the summary. TBI has proposed a long-term arrangement in which it would charge the city a $15,000 management fee on top of what it takes to run the airport.

The airport's current operating budget is about $1.5 million a year, but McDuffie has said she needs to study TBI's proposal to see just how private management would affect the airport's bottom line.

Macon Telegraph

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