County officials meet with Piedmont Airlines chief on future of island airport

February 26, 2011 

New bathrooms, furniture and better lighting might be in store for the Hilton Head Island Airport following a goodwill trip to its lone commercial carrier.

Beaufort County officials flew to Charlotte on Jan. 13 for a one-hour meeting with Piedmont Airlines officials.

Salisbury, Md.-based Piedmont is a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways Inc., which offers year-round service from Hilton Head to Charlotte and Washington, D.C.

County administrator Gary Kubic, County Council Chairman Weston Newton and County Councilman Stu Rodman met with Piedmont president and CEO Steve Farrow and others to discuss airport operations.

The meeting came after Delta Air Lines discontinued service to the airport Nov. 1, citing the route's poor performance. Delta has announced in previous years it was ending service at the airport, only to return when tourist season resumed in March.

"We wanted to reassure (US Airways) that we appreciate their business ... and let them know we are willing and able to discuss issues with them before they become barriers," Kubic said. "We wanted to make a goodwill gesture and continue to maintain a good line of communication."

Piedmont officials' top priority is cutting trees around the airport's runway, Kubic said.

The county is involved in a legal dispute with a native-island congregation attempting to prevent tree-cutting at the county-owned airport.

The current runway and tree obstructions force the airline to fly fewer passengers, causing customers to wait for later flights during peak season and service to be less profitable.

"They are committed to the Hilton Head market, but it's costing them money to not have the trees taken care of," Rodman said.

Piedmont officials also want better lighting for airline employees working on the tarmac at night, new bathrooms beyond the security checkpoint and new furniture, he said.

Kubic said airport officials are examining the cost and placement of new lighting and furniture. New bathrooms are planned as part of a $2 million terminal remodeling in 2011-12.

Delta's departure has some county officials worried about the airport's revenue. Delta accounted for about one-fourth of monthly airline revenues, they said. The airline paid the county about $250,000 a year in monthly landing and security fees; rent for terminal, office and runway space; and fire protection.

The airport has adjusted its contracts with rental car companies, advertisers and its general aviation service provider to create more revenue, said county airports manager Paul Andres.Finding another airline to replace Delta will be difficult, given the limited passenger capacity airlines face at the airport, Andres said.

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