Dear editor: The idea of the City of Covington investing taxpayer's good money in a Fixed Base Operation at the Covington Municipal Airport smells of unfair government competition and interference in private enterprise. For the last six years, the city has been under contract with Dixie Jet Service Inc. to attempt to do what no other company has been able to do since the airport was developed over 40 or 50 years ago. Dixie Jet has been able establish itself as a pretty successful FBO. This has been accomplished with zero assistance from the city, county, or the taxpayers. Dixie Jet did it with hard work and hard earned private investment.
Now that it appears to the city that Dixie Jet is going to make it, unlike so many of the other of the city's FBO operators who have not, the city has announced its plans to operate an FBO in direct competition with Dixie Jet. We at Dixie Jet cannot take this "shot across our bow" as anything other than a move by the city to run Dixie Jet out of business by means of unfair competition. The city knows full well that there is not yet enough business for one FBO at the airport much less two competing after the same dollars. Let it be known that Dixie Jet will fight to the end to see that the city is unsuccessful in their quest. As we at Dixie Jet have always indicated, if the city wants to "partner" with private enterprise in a effort to "grow" the airport in an way that makes economic sense and that creates a "win-win" situation for the taxpayers as well as for Dixie Jet, we will welcome that effort with open arms.
We support the new mayor, Kim Carter, in her effort to implement an economic and environmental impact study to see how, and if, the taxpayers of Covington should fund the airport's growth. The airport is definitely in need of additional land and hangars and has been for the last 5 years. But the city would not be wise to go into the FBO business in order to accomplish this at the taxpayers' expense, and it does not need to do so in order to grow the airport. As the FBO under contract with the city of Covington for at least 22 more years, Dixie Jet has grown this airport from a sleepy, under-utilized airport, to a full service active FBO that meets the needs of the "weekend warriors" as well as corporate aviation. The city has promised this FBO a new ramp area for over 6 years and we have yet to see anything but asphalt patches on top of asphalt patches and we are still waiting.
To date, the FBO has invested millions of dollars in hangar-office buildings, fuel equipment, parking lot, self-service fuel service, personnel, services, furniture, equipment, fixtures, improvements and personnel, without one dime coming from the city or its taxpayers. We have grown this airport from two dilapidated trailers (which Dixie Jet has since improved), to a growing, thriving airport FBO with a modern 4,000 square foot office building and 12,000 square foot hangar, over 85 based aircraft, 16 private hangar buildings, 60 tie-downs, a full service aircraft maintenance facility, air charter and a flight school. In addition, Dixie Jet has been instrumental in the growth of the Civil Air Patrol, EAA and corporate aviation at the airport. Our corporate customers and tenants include Standridge Color, Omni-Flight Helicopter Rescue, Covington Aviation and many, many more, most of which were not here prior to Dixie Jet Service.Editor's note: While there has been official interest expressed by Epic Air Center in leasing and operating another full-service FBO at the airport, the Covington City Council has not at this time voted in favor of allowing another FBO onto the property.
According to an e-mail from Covington City Manager Steve Horton, "though discussions for possible business ventures including another FBO have been discussed by both the city and the IDA and some project possibilities including an FBO and other activities have been listed in an upcoming Capitol Improvement Plan to be submitted to the FAA, the city has not yet voted to move forward with any specific project at the airport."
For several years the city of Covington has included plans to rehabilitate the airport's apron in their yearly CIP submitted to the state and federal governments. Due to funding issues, the project has not yet taken place Horton said.
"The apron rehab work is back in the budget and airport CIP again for the coming year along with remaining runway and taxiway rehab work and other desired work," Horton said. "If funding comes through and remains available, hopefully the budgeted work, including the apron rehab will occur in FY 2008."