Beaufort County continues to search for an airports director more than 10 months after Paul Andres resigned.
Appointing a new director is a "top priority" in the next few weeks, according to county administrator Gary Kubic. Kubic is also considering contracting out airport management.
While the search goes on, the county is also facing a possible shutdown of the Hilton Head Island Airport control tower, tentatively scheduled for Sept. 30, as a result of federal budget cuts.
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A deadline has not been set to fill the director's position, which oversees daily operations at the Beaufort County Airport on Lady's Island and the Hilton Head Island facility, Kubic said.
"It will be resolved in short order," he said. "I don't want to give a two or three week deadline, but it is a top priority."
In November, Andres resigned after a "difference of opinion" with the county administrator, Kubic said last year. Director of engineering Rob McFee and deputy county administrator Bryan Hill have filled in during the interim.
The county is considering five candidates, two of whom will be interviewed by Kubic in the next few weeks, he said.
Kubic and Hill interviewed three candidates by phone earlier this year, but Kubic decided to open the search again and accept two additional applicants.
"I wasn't comfortable with the results, so I delayed the process," Kubic said.
The county might also consider hiring a private management company to run airport operations, instead of hiring its own director.
"I've tossed the idea out, and I'm trying to find out how it works for other airports that have operational managers as private contractors instead of public employees," Kubic said.
County staff is researching the idea, which could be similar to the way the county contracts out janitorial work or specialized tasks, he said.
"It's designed to see whether or not we can gain efficiencies," he said. "It may allow the county to focus and deliver (airport) services in a more timely fashion because it's set up by contract."
At the Beaufort County Airports Board meeting Thursday, several board members said not having a director left them with no "point man" to create partnerships and improve services.
"We need someone to talk to, and they need to be dedicated to the airport," board Chairman Pete Buchanan said.
Whether the position is filled by a full-time individual or contractor isn't important, Buchanan said.
"That makes very little difference to me," he said. "What's important to me is that someone gets that job so that we can do other things."
The Federal Aviation Administration has said it plans to close the control tower at the Hilton Head facility next month.
The tower, which is run by Robinson Aviation, had been scheduled to close in May and then in June, but the FAA extended the start time of the cuts.
The FAA has not given final notice of the closure to the county, Hill said. He suspects the deadline might be extended again if the gridlock in Washington, D.C., over federal sequestration continues.
The airport can function safely without the tower, Buchanan said.
The tower, which does not have radar, is only used to monitor ground traffic, said County Councilman Stu Rodman, the council's liaison to the Airports Board. Radar to coordinate landings is provided by the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.
One concern has been that the tower won't be operational during the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament in April, the airport's busiest time.
Before the tower was built in 2004, the FAA sent a portable tower to coordinate traffic during the annual PGA Tour tournament, Buchanan said.
If it appears the tower will be closed for the 2014 tournament, County Council might temporarily staff it, Rodman added.
Rodman said county staff or the airports board would need to determine the cost of such staffing before County Council could consider it.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.