Middle Georgia Airport Costs Stir Concern

Five people from the private company managing Macon's airports were at Middle Georgia Regional Airport on Friday, costing Macon a minimum of $500 an hour under the city's contract with the company.

That amount caused some concern that the cost to have TBI Airport Management run the city's two airports for 30 days, in an attempt to keep Middle Georgia Regional safe from federal sanctions, might cost more than the city bargained for.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Councilman Rick Hutto, one of two council members who last week voted against a 30-day contract with TBI. "It's the reason I voted against it. ... This will be hundreds of thousands of dollars in a contract. Watch."

Macon Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie told council members last week the TBI contract would cost the city an estimated $82,000 - including $26,250 already billed. That was based on a tiered system of hourly charges from $100 to $200, depending on which TBI employees used.

On Friday or Monday, McDuffie did not return telephone messages seeking further information on the costs. An attempt to reach Mayor Jack Ellis through his spokesman also was not successful. TBI Vice President John Green, who has referred questions about the airport to McDuffie in the past, also did not return a telephone message.

Rex Elder, the former city airports director whom Ellis brought in on a temporary basis in December as the Federal Aviation Administration threatened to pull Middle Georgia Regional's operating certificate, called TBI's employees "good people" that he's "very impressed" with.

He said TBI has been focusing recently on security issues cited by the Transportation Security Administration - another federal regulator that has put the city on notice that it has to fix problems at Middle Georgia Regional or face sanctions.

"(TBI) kept bringing them in and bringing them in," said Elder, whose last day at the airport was Friday. "They brought in one woman from Albany, New York."

McDuffie did respond, via e-mail, to a separate question, naming the operations manager who will start at the airport March 20. Hiring an operations manager was key to keeping the airport open to commercial flights, according to the FAA. The city selected Carlton Harrison, according to McDuffie's e-mail.

Harrison has worked at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport and the Detroit City Airport, according to McDuffie's e-mail.

Meanwhile, former airports director George Brown, removed from his position in December, remains in limbo. A hearing he requested in an attempt to get his job back was scheduled for last Wednesday but was canceled by the City Council.

Brown has said that he told city officials "about the problems at that airport for two solid years," but they refused to give him the funding needed to fix the problems. He said Monday that he hasn't heard when his requested hearing will be rescheduled.

Macon Telegraph

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