GEORGETOWN — Attracting more corporate jets to the Sussex County Airport would reduce the airport’s operating deficit, a consultant told county council, but he didn’t suggest trying to attract a commercial airline to the Georgetown airfield.
“The airline service biz is consolidating. I mean, it’s amazing that you have one in Salisbury,” said Randal Wiedemann of R.A. Wiedemann & Associates, a Kentucky aviation planning firm. “They would be eating their own business by having a second here.”
Wiedemann offered the council a roster of ways the county could cut expenses and boost revenue at its airport, which rents hangars to aviation hobbyists, houses a major aircraft repair company and has a sit-down restaurant.
Delaware Technical Community College also operates an airplane maintenance program at the airport.
State funds paid for Wiedemann’s study.
The county considers the airport an economic multiplier, especially its biggest tenant, PATS Aircraft, which employs hundreds of people in skilled jobs.
Still, the airport’s expenses regularly outstrip its revenues, with a $300,000 deficit in 2013.
Taking the steps his report recommends could bring that operating shortfall down to about $159,000 in 10 years, Wiedemann said.
“The important part here is the trajectory. You’re moving toward self-sufficiency,” he told the council.
One suggestion Wiedemann made involved branding the county’s beach resort and the airport with a common slogan or theme. An analogy, he suggested, was the shorthand ‘OBX’ for the Outer Banks of North Carolina, an acronym that’s slapped on everything.
“You get behind them and they’ve got that OBX on the back of the car window. That’s the kind of brand and name recognition that you want if you’re going to attract people to the beaches,” Weidemann said.
To that end, he advised renaming the airport, calling it the ‘Delaware Coastal Airport’ or something similar.
“If you have a Sussex County Airport, it could be in a number of different places,” he said. “If you have a Southern Delaware Regional Airport, that could only be in one location.”
The overall goal, he said, should be to encourage general aviation users and corporate plane owners to consider using Sussex’s airport instead of ones in Salisbury, Md., Easton, Md., or Ocean City, Md.
Councilwoman Joan Deaver said she thought there was room to market the airport better to second-home owners at the beaches.
“A lot of new people in my district didn’t even know we had an airport,” Deaver said.