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City and county clear airport committee for takeoff

City and county officials started the process of forming an Airport Advisory Committee last week, an entity that would serve as a buffer between the day-to-day operations at the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport and the owners of the facility -- the City of Thomson and McDuffie County.

As first reported by The McDuffie Mirror, local officials revealed the plans for an airport committee at last month's planning retreat in Athens. At a meeting last week, officials tinkered with the plan to include up to nine members.

Thomson Mayor Bob Knox suggested that a representative from one of McDuffie County's prominent industrial players should be on the committee, considering that the airport was originally developed with wooing industry in mind.

"I think the industries should be represented well, because they have a vested interest in it," he said.

Suggestions for the committee were: representatives from law enforcement and the Economic Development Authority. Officials also agreed that the airport's Fixed-Base Operator James Lyle should not have a presence on the committee because of a possible conflict of interest.

The committee will likely consist also of two local airplane owners, Mr. Knox, County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton and a local resident interested in aviation.

Local officials decided to keep operations at the airport as they are -- with the two local governments working closely with Mr. Lyle -- but they also came to the consensus that the airport needs to start generating revenue with a $500,000 hangar project looming on the horizon in 2005.

"We've got a great facility at a great location, and I'd like to see it start making some money for us," said City Councilman J.T. Wiley.

County Commissioner Darrell Wester agreed.

"It's hard to tell taxpayers, 'We spent $1 million and we're not getting anything (in return).'"

The airport was originally designed in part to attract large industries to McDuffie County, which would in turn increase the tax base and create new jobs. But with some of the county's industrial parks sitting dormant and others still waiting on sewer upgrades, officials are looking to construct corporate hangars to offset costs.

"I've had more and more calls for corporate hangars. ... And it's because of our facility and ILS (Instrument Landing System)," said Mr. Lyle. "Things are going very well ... we need more hangar space."

Officials are expected to further discuss the Airport Advisory Committee at meetings next month.

Web posted on Thursday, February 26, 2004

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