Private pilots flying into Hilton Head Island Airport may avoid extra charges, but not passengers on commercial flights.
The Beaufort County Airports Board on Thursday recommended a $4.50-per-ticket fee for departing commercial passengers at Hilton Head. The county expects to collect about $2.7 million over 10 years, according to forecasts based on current passenger counts.
Then, after deliberating in closed session, the board tabled a proposal to charge private pilots flying into Hilton Head, choosing instead to secure more money from the company that provides flight support for general aviation.
Both matters now advance to the County Council's Finance Committee.
The passenger fee would be used to repay the county about $1.5 million for construction of the air traffic control tower, widening and bolstering the runway, building and equipping a new airport fire and rescue station, and tree removal.
The rest would be used to cover the county's share of extending the runway from 4,300 to 5,400 feet and renovating the commercial terminal.
"In six years, forecasts show we'll receive enough revenue to pay back the investment the county's made at the airport," board chairman Joe Mazzei said. "That will recharge our balance sheet, putting us on solid footing to move ahead with further projects to improve commercial and general aviation service."
Delta Air Lines, which pulled out of Hilton Head last year, did not object to the fee, and US Airways, the island's lone commercial carrier, did not comment, said Judy Elder of Talbert & Bright, the county's airport consultant. Both airlines were given 30 days to respond to the query.
"I guess no news is good news," Elder said of US Airways' no comment.
The airport charged a $3 passenger fee from 2000 to 2007, collecting about $1.4 million. The money was used to buy land for the control tower and general-aviation development.
Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach currently charge a passenger fee.
The new fee would take effect March 1 and expire in 2022, if it receives County Council and Federal Aviation Administration approval, county airports director Paul Andres said.
The Airports Board also recommended revisions to the county's contract with Signature Flight Support, instead of charging private pilots a landing fee.
Terms of the proposed agreement were not disclosed. County attorney Josh Gruber said negotiations continue with Signature, and discussions likely will remain in closed session until an agreement is reached and it goes before County Council.
Signature Flight Support opposes the landing fee, which was proposed to make the airport more self-sufficient. The company says it would hurt business. Its regional vice president, Byron Gray, told the board Oct. 20 he was willing to find alternatives to give more money back to the county in lieu of the fee.
Rick Caporale, County Council's liaison to the Airports Board, said revenue under a new agreement with Signature "will far exceed what landing fees would bring in." He declined to elaborate, other than that the terms would be "lucrative" for the county.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead.