Georgetown County officials highlighted South Carolina Aviation Week by hosting an Aug. 23 celebration luncheon at the Georgetown County Airport.
Members of the Georgetown County Airport Commission, Fixed-Base Operator representatives, Georgetown County officials, council members and staff, along with local pilots and aviation industry professionals gathered to recognize and applaud the achievements of the county’s airport.
“The Georgetown County Airport is the first stop for many visitors to our area and the airport staff does a great job in making a good first impression for the county,” Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway said.
The airport is a general aviation airport owned and operated by Georgetown County. Airport Manager Richard Westfall said there are 31 T-hangars leased to aircraft owners and a corporate hangar on the airport property. The airport logs approximately 80 aircraft operations daily; totaling nearly 29,00 operations a year.
Pilots flying in and out of Georgetown have two runways at their disposal; 5-23 is a 6,001-foot-by-100-foot asphalt-surfaced runway, while 11-29 is 4,539 feet by 150 feet, also asphalt surfaced.
Local pilot and GCA tenant Doug Decker was the event’s featured speaker. The airport’s relevance, Decker told the small crowd in attendance, goes far beyond the important role it plays in the economic development of the county.
“I first landed at the Georgetown airport over 30 years ago while traveling from Wisconsin to visit my in-laws, Jack and Doris Athey, who were residents of Wedgefield Plantation,” Decker said. “I have made a number of trips here over the years, and I am happy to say that I have observed many improvements over the past few years that have increased the utility and safety at the airport, and I’m very pleased to call this airport home.”
Decker said he was pleased to have his plane parked in one of the airport’s new hangars, but that was just one of the many reasons he moved his plane from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown.
“I moved from another airport because of the reduced congestion and delay,” Decker said. “Georgetown Airport is user-friendly and has a family atmosphere, and there is also less bureaucratic red tape.”
After being involved in the planning and designing of more than 100 airports, Decker said he knows an outstanding airport when he sees one. He has held numerous aviation posts across the country, including commissioner on the Utah State Aeronautics board, member of the Salt Lake City International Airport Advisory Board, member of the Capital Improvements Committee for General Mitchell Milwaukee International Airport and a member of the State of Wisconsin Aviation Master Plan Task Force.
Decker said many pilots are attracted to the GCA because of its competitive tax structure compared to airports in other states – North Carolina, in particular.
“The reduction of sales tax on aircraft repair and services separates you from your neighbor to the north, which has a 6.75 percent sales tax on both aircraft repair parts and labor; this is a significant advantage that just became law in January of 2016,” Decker said.
The extension of runway 5-23 in 2009, he said, permits larger aircraft to use the facility while increasing overall safety.
“It has attracted airplanes that would have previously used the services of Myrtle Beach or Charleston,” Decker said. “This usage results in additional fuel sales, taxes, and tourism for Georgetown County.”
Turning his attention to the future, Decker said the GCA has a significant capacity to expand. Decker encouraged the airport commission to look into a specialized facility for large aircraft, parking for mothballed aircraft, expanded flight training, a large aircraft parts assembly to support Boeing in Charleston, and the list, he said, could go on and on.
There are programs at the GCA that can’t be measured in dollars and cents, Decker said, and those programs are near and dear to his heart.
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the Angel Flight, Mercy Flight and Young Eagles programs that the airport fully supports,” Decker said. “The first two programs assist noncritical patients by transporting them to health facilities via private planes and the airport supports this program by providing reduced fuel cost for the flights.
“The last program is the Young Eagles that is headed up locally by our very own Georgetown pilot Dan Drost. Several pilots from Georgetown, including myself, volunteer their time and airplanes to take up young people aged 14-17 and introduce them to aviation.”
In closing, Decker said the GCA has many opportunities to enrich the people of the community, and he encouraged county officials and members of the airport commission to develop a comprehensive business plan for the airport to reach its potential.