Harnett County commissioners started a 90-day clock when they decided to opt out of an operator agreement at the local jetport.
Commissioners pulled out of its Fixed Based Operator contract with Warren Aviations last month, giving the board until June 15 to figure out what direction it wants to take the Harnett Regional Jetport.
Assistant County Manager Coley Price on Tuesday told the board the clock is ticking and the deadline is coming fast.
“Time is of the essence,” Price said. “June 15 will be here before you blink your eyes. We want to make sure we’re prepared, that we understand your direction and what leadership you’d like to see the airport turn into. If you could give us an answer on that we’d certainly appreciate it.”
Barry Blevins, Harnett County director of community development, offered commissioners a brief history of the airport, one which seemingly turned for the better after Warren Aviations took over its daily operations in 2013. Blevins credited the company with changing the culture at the jetport.
“The county has never run the airport,” said Blevins. “It has always hired somebody to run the fuel operations and oversee aircraft coming in and out. I will admit that Warren Aviations added a lot of value and changed the concept. It was a good ole boys flying club when I first took over. They did bring a professional look to it and did a lot of good things.”
Commissioners faced two options when deciding to terminate its FBO with Warren Aviations two years early: The county could assume control of the jetport’s day-to-day operations or enter into another FBO. Blevins told Commissioner Barbara McKoy that many smaller airports are run by their respective counties, including ones in Surry, Duplin, Stanley and Johnston.
“There are a lot that are run that way,” Blevins said. “For an FBO to make money they have to invest in other things besides selling fuel. We already have maintenance out there. We’ve had several people interested in leasing aircraft. Those are the kinds of things an FBO does. Essentially, the majority of private FBOs in the country are run by the county.
“I wouldn’t take nothing away from [Irvin] Warren. He did give everybody another way to look at it, and seeing the opportunities the county can prosper from.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman W. Brooks Matthews also acknowledged the positive impact Warren Aviations had on the jetport, and said it now rested on commissioners to continue that good work.
“I cannot speak for the board, but at least for me, I do recognize the contribution that Mr. Warren and Warren Aviations made in stepping our jetport up to the next level. I think that’s where we are today, and we need to make a decision about where we’re going to go forward and even move it to the next level.”
Commissioners in March narrowly voted 3-2 to terminate its existing FBO contract with Warren Aviations. Irvin Warren died at the end of 2020 and his estate wanted to award the remaining two years and four months of the FBO contract to Warren’s longtime employee Gary Peacock. The contract paid Warren Investments of North Carolina Inc. $138,500 to handle the daily operations of the jetport. A clause in the contract, however, allowed the county to terminate the agreement early after providing a 90-day notice, which it did on March 15.
Commissioners added the jetport discussion to next week’s monthly meeting agenda.
Eliot Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 910-230-2038.