Flawed Reservation System Cost Augusta Regional Airport $67,000 During Masters Tournament

May 29--A flawed online reservation system used by private aircraft flying into Augusta during the Masters Tournament cost Augusta Regional Airport more than $67,000.

Overbooking of the airport's parking spots forced the Federal Aviation Administration to divert aircraft to other nearby general aviation airports. Several ground stops, which prohibit takeoffs and landings, were issued from Wednesday to Saturday of the tournament, when tens of thousands of visitors traveled to Augusta.

Aircraft operators for major corporations including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Fed Ex, Motorola and dozens of others were issued refunds for their reservations. The potential loss of future business concerned members of the Augusta Aviation Commission at its monthly meeting Thursday.

"The damage that's been done is severe," said aviation commission member Grey Murray.

The commission recommended airport staff make personal phone calls to clients that were issued refunds, in addition to letters already mailed.

A reservation system was first implemented for Masters Week in 2013 to help spread out aircraft to the area's four regional airports. This year, reservations were made online for the first time using an automated software system.

Augusta Regional, Daniel Field, Thomson-McDuffie Regional and Aiken Municipal airports collaborated to build the new system and market it to clients. The changes were intended to improve customer service and eliminate ground stops.

In 2013, Augusta Regional had no ground stops for the first time in several years. Other airports reported more operations and revenue for the week because Augusta Regional limited the number of planes it accepted.

Airport staff, who recognized the online system had continued to accept reservations after the ramp was full, eventually shut down the system, said Augusta Regional Marketing Director Diane Johnston. In addition to overbooking, aircraft that did not make reservations flew in and parked at the airport overnight.

Despite turning planes away, the airport's general aviation ramp fees for the week increased 5.6 percent over 2013 and jet fuel sales increased 31 percent. Flight operations totaled 2,035, or 12 less than the previous year.

Airport staff and an aviation commission committee are meeting to correct the issues, said Augusta Regional Executive Director Gary LeTellier.

"We've got some issues to work through and not a lot of time to do it in," he said.

Copyright 2014 - The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.

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