Lanett council holds first meeting, discuss hiring new airport manager

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2024

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LANETT — The Lanett City Council had its first meeting of the new year on Tuesday. They held a second reading of and approved a flood plain ordinance, and City Clerk/Treasurer Deborah Gilbert reported on the city’s Rebuild Alabama fund. That budget went from around $91,000 in the previous year to approximately $106,000 for the current period.

Under the Rebuild Alabama law, local city and county governments are required to make annual reports on what they have in their 10-cent gas tax budget. This money is received from the state with a portion of it being based on population and another portion being split evenly between local communities. Gilbert told the council that a portion of the money that’s been received in 2023 was spent on road improvements and new signage but that the overall account had grown by approximately $15,000.

In a work session that preceded the regular meeting, the council had an extensive discussion about the future of the Lanett Regional Airport. Taking part in the discussion with Mayor Jamie Heard and council members were experienced pilots Brad Lynn and Mike Ballard and long-time community leader Bill Scott. Also present were representatives of the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA) including former director Valerie Gray, current director Chris Busby and Ansley Emfinger.

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There are two factors involved in the airport taking a new direction. Its first manager, Richard Carter, recently resigned but has agreed to stay on in a part-time role until a new manager is named. Carter has accepted a position with the Clayton County, Georgia Police Department, where he will be spending much of its time flying, something he had a passion for.

A regional airport must have someone in a management role to make sure the airport’s day-to-day activities take place. This includes checking the fuel and runway lighter every day and seeing that FAA and basic safety rules are being adhered to.  It’s also important to be up-to-date in seeking the grants that are needed for the airport to meet its full potential. The city is currently seeking a new airport manager to succeed Carter.

The city could turn the management of the airport over to what’s known as a fixed base operator, or FBO. The disadvantage of this is that the FBO c0ntractor would get most of the income being derived in running the airport. If the city handles this, it can derive income from fuel sales and the leasing of hangar and tie-down spaces.

After the meeting, Mayor Heard told The Valley Times-News that he would be naming a committee of local residents to offer advice on the continuing development of the airport. He will need to contact individuals knowledgeable about aviation and community development. He hopes to have such a committee together very soon. He thanked council members Angelia Thomas, Tifton Dobbs and Ronnie Tucker for their service on the council’s aviation committee in 2023. “It’s a new year, and I think we are heading in the right direction,” he said. “A lot has been invested in this new airport, and we want to make it a great resource for the entire area.”

An estimated $20 million has been spent in replacing an aging 3,100-foot runway with one that’s more than 5,400 feet in length. Pilots who have landed planes on the new surface have been highly complimentary of its smooth surface.

A new $1 million terminal located just off the runway is the home of the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA). Lanett Regional is one of few places where business class jets can land and taxi up to a terminal where corporate officials can get off the plane and walk right into a development office and talk to people about expanding their business.

Future goals at the site include building a new road off of Phillips Road directly to the terminal to provide quick access to I-85. There’s also the need to store jet fuel at the site and to lease sites for hangars and places to tie down planes.