Outside Officials Step in to Help at Macon Airport

Dec. 17--The federal Transportation Security Administration has had an official at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport for the past two weeks as local and federal officials try to work through a list of security and safety concerns there.

Savannah's airport also has sent an airfield manager and a security manager "to lend a helping hand" in Macon, according to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Executive Director Patrick Graham, as Macon's commercial airport tries to keep its certification.

The TSA official is expected to stay in Macon another two or three weeks to develop an aviation security plan and make sure the city is in compliance, TSA spokesman Christopher White said.

City airports director George Brown is no longer involved in the process. He has been fighting for his job since revealing more than 27 TSA and Federal Aviation Administration citations at the airport.

Brown confirmed Friday that he is no longer going to work. Whether he ultimately will be fired, resign or retire remains to be seen, and Brown has said he plans to make his case to the Macon City Council.

"I don't know what's going on," Brown said Friday. "Nobody's called me to say that you're officially fired."

But Brown has been stripped of his city credit card and other city property, Mayor Jack Ellis said Friday. Ellis said Brown has been "locked out of the (city) computers," and city Chief Administrative Officer Regina McDuffie is the interim airports director.

Meanwhile, problems at both the Middle Georgia Regional Airport and the Macon Downtown Airport, the city's smaller airport for non-commercial flights, continue to come to light. Letters provided Friday to The Telegraph point to a history of problems at both airports going unresolved despite citations from inspecting agencies.

An Oct. 7 FAA letter, addressed to Brown, speaks of "very high safety concerns" at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, some of which persisted through consecutive inspection visits.

"The self-inspection program and program for prompt correction of hazards, is still inadequate," the safety inspector's letter states. "Almost all of the discrepancies noted on the previous letters of correction were not addressed. ... The city of Macon needs to provide the resources to have them fixed immediately. Failure to do so is a violation of the airport operating certificate."

Failure to do so, the letter states, "may result in a civil penalty or certificate revocation."

Among the problems cited in the letter: damaged airfield lighting, a lack of training for airport safety personnel and poorly maintained safety areas.

At the Macon Downtown Airport problems have existed since 2003, according to a May letter to Brown from the Georgia Department of Transportation's aviation division.

That letter details several problems, including trees that need to be removed along runway approaches, grass and weeds growing through cracks in the runway pavement and other growth along the sides of the runway that blocks drainage.

Ed Ratigan, the DOT's aviation program manager, said city airport officials are working to correct problems mentioned in the letter, which bears his signature.

The trees "are a serious liability issue for the airport and should be corrected as soon as possible," Ratigan's letter states. "Most of the obstructions noted in this report were also present and noted during our last inspection of the airport June 10, 2003."

Ellis said things have been left undone at the airports "that should have been done a long time ago."

The mayor provided copies of the letters to The Telegraph and said that, although he takes responsibility for both airports, he wasn't provided copies of the letters and he wasn't aware of the problems until recently.

Asked specifically Friday about the situation at the Macon Downtown Airport, Brown replied, "I'm not familiar with any of those things."

Brown then said he wasn't cleared by his employer to discuss them and that he needed to speak to his attorney before addressing the situation publicly.

To contact Travis Fain, call 744-4213 or e-mail tfain@macontel.com [mailto:tfain@macontel.com].