Deadline to Address FAA Problems at Georgia Airport Looms

Feb. 20--Tuesday marks a Federal Aviation Administration deadline to address problems at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, and Macon Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie said she's confident the airport will meet that deadline.

Some problems cited by the Federal Aviation Administration are still being addressed, but McDuffie said she thinks the airport can keep its operating certificate, keeping intact its schedule of four commercial flights a day to and from Atlanta.

"Some of the things that (the FAA is) looking at will be ongoing (beyond Tuesday), such as training our personnel and making sure that we stay in compliance," McDuffie said.

But other items -- such as the replacement of runway lights and other maintenance issues -- should be checked off the to-do list by Tuesday, McDuffie said. A larger project to redo runway markings at the airport will take longer, likely into the spring, but it is under way, McDuffie said.

FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said federal officials have been consulting with local airport officials "pretty much constantly" since citing the airport for problems in a Dec. 22, 2005, letter. Beyond that, Bergen said, "it wouldn't really be appropriate for us to address the specifics in the letter."

An evaluation will be done Tuesday, she said, and the FAA will "make a determination on what the next steps will be."

The Dec. 22 letter noted several problems at the airport, most dealing with airport lights and signs in disrepair, insufficient runway markings and a lack of qualified personnel.

A follow-up letter, dated Jan. 12, 2006, stated that this lack of "sufficient, qualified personnel" was the "root cause of discrepancies found on the airfield." Failure to correct the violations, the letter stated, "may lead to enforcement action, including suspension of the airport operating certificate."

No operating certificate means no commercial flights.

The airport is also dealing with separate violations cited by the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA handles security at airports, and the FAA looks primarily at safety concerns. The TSA has been more secretive about problems at Middle Georgia Regional, citing a need to keep the specific nature of security problems out of the public eye. City Council members and others who have been briefed on the situation have signed non-disclosure agreements.

"We are continuing to work with the airport, and our hope is they will come into full compliance with our regulations," TSA spokesman Christopher White said last week.

There's a March 31 deadline to address TSA issues, McDuffie said.

McDuffie said the city has interviewed four candidates for an important operations manager position at the airport. The city also solicited temporary help from airport officials in other cities. Some training for current airport staff has begun and more is planned, including an emergency readiness drill scheduled for Wednesday, McDuffie said.

An airport security plan also is being rewritten, she said.

Meanwhile, airport leadership is up in the air. Former director George Brown is appealing to City Council in an effort to get his job back. Brown says he was fired, but a city human resources report lists him as retired.

But the city already is looking for a permanent replacement, having brought in former Macon aviation director Rex Elder on a temporary basis.

Earlier this month, Macon Mayor Jack Ellis also said he planned to have Macon-Bibb County Parks and Recreation Director Mike Anthony pull double duty, managing his department and managing the airport on a part-time basis.

McDuffie has said no one will be hired as a permanent director until Brown's appeal runs its course. A hearing has been scheduled for March 8, according to Brown's attorney, Robert Lovett.

"We've been just trying to clear Mr. Brown's name," Lovett said. "This man has incredible credentials. ... He is a retired major from the United States Marine Corps."

To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail [].