Contract Vote Tied to Middle Georgia Airport's Compliance

A private company's contract to manage Middle Georgia Regional Airport - considered by city officials as key to keeping the airport up and running - depends on a Macon City Council vote tonight.

The emergency contract with TBI Airport Management, which Mayor Jack Ellis signed shortly after the Federal Aviation Administration inspected the airport last month and threatened its operating certificate, is up for a 30-day extension. Without it, the contract expires today.

The council is scheduled to vote on the contract during today's 6 p.m. meeting at City Hall. Monday, several city officials described the contract as crucial, considering that the FAA was set to recommend a suspension of commercial flights at the airport before it was signed.

"The FAA was recommending that our certificate be taken," Macon Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie told council members Monday evening. "As long as we're under this memorandum of understanding (with TBI), they will not suspend our certificate."

How much the contract will cost the city remains to be seen, but McDuffie said it won't be cheap. TBI officials are paid an hourly rate between $100 and $200 per person, and McDuffie said the company has had one person at Middle Georgia Regional most days since taking over airport operations at the end of February and two people on some days. But McDuffie said she would prepare the exact cost to the city so far - and an estimate as to what another month will cost - for the council today.

With those numbers in hand, council members said they will likely extend the contract for 30 days, instead of the 60 days administration officials had requested.

"Basically, what we're asking for is what a normal contract would have in it," Councilman Stebin Horne said after some back-and-forth among city officials Monday about what information the council wanted before the vote.

McDuffie said she didn't think the change from 60 to 30 days would be a problem for TBI, which also manages Orlando-Sanford International Airport in Florida and the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. A TBI vice president attended Monday's meeting of the council's Ordinances and Resolutions Committee but referred all comment to the mayor's office.

McDuffie said bringing TBI on board kept the FAA from recommending a suspension of commercial flights at the airport, which has been hit with a series of FAA and Transportation Security Administration violations. FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said Monday that Macon is currently "complying with federal regulations."

"We're going to closely monitor ... to (make sure city officials) continue the compliance with federal regulations," Bergen said. "The issue is really ongoing."

In addition to bringing TBI in to manage the airport, the city has hired an operations manager for the airport. That person starts March 20, McDuffie said, but was not identified during Monday's committee meeting. Adding that position was a key point, according to FAA letters to the city detailing problems at Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

Council members indicated they are willing to approve the contract, but several were upset about how the Ellis administration has handled the airport issue. Ellis essentially canceled a work session on the issue last week, and Councilman Henry Ficklin said there appears to be an "ingrained disrespect of the council," which has to hear news about the airport "through the grapevine" instead of from the mayor's office.

Said City Council President Anita Ponder: "A lot of this could have been avoided ... had somebody just taken five minutes to come and brief us."

Council members also are scheduled to discuss the airport Wednesday. That's when former director George Brown's hearing is scheduled. Brown has said he was unfairly fired and that he wants his job back.

Macon Telegraph

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