Construction delays and service issues continue to cause problems at the Covington Municipal Airport, including the inability for some planes to take off because of a lack of fuel.
The lack of fuel and service means the third-party operator of the airport, Atlanta East Aviation, is in violation of their contract, but Atlanta East employees say the city’s construction delays have made it impossible for them to do their job.
On March 2, Don Young, with Standridge Color Corp.’s air transportation department, wrote a letter to the City of Covington outlining multiple occasions where Atlanta East was either out of fuel or was unable to provide service because no employees were present.
Standridge Color houses five aircraft at the Covington airport and is frequently flying planes into and out of the city. Young said lack of fuel has caused his company to have to use alternate planes and to refuel at other airports — an inefficient model.
"When we fail to get the service that we are guaranteed in our lease, then we get very concerned," Young said in a March 10 follow-up email. "It is becoming more of an issue that we expect not to have any type fuel 100 percent of the time and have to have a contingency plan for the lack of fuel which is now the first question our pilots ask when planning a departure out of Covington.
"… Bottom Line: Provide the service that any reputable Fixed Base Operation (Atlanta East is Covington’s FBO or airport operator) is supposed to and we will [keep] the Large Aviation Department [here and] maintain our usual low key operation."
Atlanta East Owner Bob Riddell and Manager Rusty Anglin responded to the complaints and said without an operable fuel farm a lack of fuel will continue to be a problem.
Normally, the Covington airport houses two 10,000 gallon tanks of fuel in its fuel farm, one with Jet A fuel and one with Avgas fuel — Avgas is similar to automotive unleaded gas, while Jet fuel is similar to highly purified kerosene.
However, the Covington airport’s fuel farm has been out of operation since July 2009, Anglin said. This was the time when the city first thought construction would start on a more than $5 million airport project designed to mill and repave the runway, rehab the taxiway, repave the apron and move the fuel farms.
Construction didn’t start until Sept. 21 and numerous weather delays pushed partial completion back to Jan. 19. However, the fuel farm is still not operational and neither is he lighting at the airport — flying is only allowed during day-light hours.
Since July, Atlanta East has had to use two fuel trucks to provide fuel instead of the fuel farm. The Jet A truck holds 2,000 useable gallons and the Avgas truck holds 800 useable gallons; significantly less than the nearly 20,000 gallons of useable fuel at the fuel farm.
"We don’t have a fuel farm, and we still have to juggle fuel in the trucks which makes life difficult," Anglin said in a phone interview Friday. "We have to keep ordering small volumes of fuel, which we can’t get on demand."
Anglin said this means fuel runs out quickly, delivery of replacement fuel is delayed and fuel prices for Atlanta East are dramatically higher.
At a regular airport construction update meeting on Thursday, Anglin asked for a firm timeline on when the fuel farm would be operational.
"They keep saying in two or three weeks [construction will be finished], but now we’re six months into this project and they have yet to set a date. I left there (Thursday) and they said they would have an absolute timeline," Anglin said.
However, as of Saturday morning no timeline had been reached. City Manager Steve Horton said the situation was further complicated by the fact that work on an airport fuel farm required special certification. The person chosen to fix Covington’s fuel farm lives in Arkansas and he has not managed to come to Covington yet, nor has a closer replacement person been found, Horton said.
Anglin said the delays have made his company and the city look bad.
"Much larger airports have made much larger projects happen in much less time," he wrote in a March 9 e-mail.
Young’s complaint will be brought before the city council at Monday’s night meeting. The city council has considered whether to cancel their airport operation contract with Atlanta East in the past and may bring up the issue again Monday, because of the breach of contract.
Late rent and stormwater payments have been previous sources of controversy. While Atlanta East is up to date with its rent payments, it has still not paid $8,000 in stormwater fees.
The city reevaluated Atlanta East’s stormwater bill and recently lowered it from $9,000 to $8,000. Anglin said because the airport has been closed so long, Atlanta East has lost a lot of money and can’t pay the bill all at once. He said he was working with the city to set up a payment plan. In the past, he has said he’s been disappointed that the city hasn’t offered Atlanta East any abatements, or reductions, on rent or other fees to make up for the lost revenue.
However, Horton said the deadline to pay the bill was Friday, and he did not know of any talks about a payment plan. He said decision will be up to the council.