JetBlue co-founder seeking spot on Airports Board

cconley@islandpacket.comMarch 4, 2013 

A retired co-founder of JetBlue Airways who now lives near Beaufort has applied for a seat on the Beaufort County Airports Board.

But Alfred Spain's appointment would come at the expense of Hilton Head Island resident Richard Wirth, who has served two terms on the board and is seeking a third.

Spain is one of eight people vying for seven open seats on the board, which oversees the county's airports on Hilton Head Island and Lady's Island. He and Wirth are competing for the same seat.

Sue Rainey, the county's clerk of council, says it will be up to Beaufort County Council to choose between the two candidates. A vote on the board appointments is expected March 11.

"Council votes on the seated member first, then the new candidate. Mr. Wirth will need 10 votes since it is his third term. Mr. Spain will only need six votes because it will be his first term," Rainey said in an email.

The board has 11 members who serve for two years each. Most seats have various requirements, such as living close to either of the county's two airports or being nominated by the Town of Hilton Head Island or the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Two seats are set aside for people with general aviation knowledge or other relevant experiences, such as marketing or security. Wirth currently holds one of those two seats, while the other is occupied by Pete Buchanan, whose term ends next year.

Councilman Rick Caporale last week nominated Wirth for a third term.

"I think he's met the qualification for re-appointment," Caporale said at the time, noting that Wirth lives in his district.

Records show Wirth attended 90 percent of board meetings in 2012 and 83 percent of meetings in 2011.

Councilman Brian Flewelling nominated Spain for the seat.

On paper, both seem up to the job.

Spain was a combat pilot in Vietnam, earning a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He served as a vice president of a Continental Airlines subsidiary in Micronesia and later was a co-founder and vice president of JetBlue before retiring in 2006, according to his application. He serves on the board of directors of Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines.

Wirth, who works as director of community relations for Hilton Head Plantation Property Owners Association, was an Air Force pilot from 1965 to 1970 and later was a pilot and flight engineer for Eastern Airlines, according to his application. He later worked in the home-building and real estate industries.

Spain, who also serves on the Lowcountry Economic Alliance board, said in an email that he wants to help the county any way he can.

Attempts last week to reach Wirth were unsuccessful.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at

Related content:

Sommerville to seek action on Lady's Island airport plan, Feb. 14, 2013

County airport board postpones vote on Hilton Head landing fee, Oct. 20, 2011

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