Beaufort News

Haley declines to weigh in on airport landing fee

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley won't intervene in a dispute between Beaufort County and the S.C. Aeronautics Commission over charging private pilots to land at the Hilton Head Island Airport, her spokesman has said.

Beaufort County Council members Steve Baer and Rick Caporale sent a letter to Haley Oct. 3 asking her to encourage the Aeronautics Commission to be neutral on a proposal to charge a landing fee to private aircraft.

State aviation officials have tried to discourage the county from charging such a fee.

"As a general rule, the governor doesn't believe raising taxes or fees is a positive thing," said Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey. "She also believes that the Aeronautics Commission is well within their rights to take into account fee structures when reviewing grant applications, and so she doesn't intend to ask them to stop."

The letter was sent in reaction to an Aug. 25 decision by the commission that imposing landing fees would be construed as "a negative consideration" when the commission considers grants for airport improvements.

In the letter, Baer and Caporale asked they be allowed to "pursue our local self-interests with self-determination, guided by local values and local representatives without ... unfair SCAC intervention."

Caporale called the commission's decision a "veiled threat."

They asked the governor to encourage the aeronautics commission to take "a neutral stand" and ask the commission to stay out of a debate on "local economic policies, leaving (the county) to deal with the various tradeoffs locally." The councilmen also asked Haley to consider changing the commission's makeup to include taxpayer and commercial-passenger representatives "to promote a more balanced perspective."

The seven-member commission consists of six General Assembly appointees -- one for each of the state's congressional districts -- and a single at-large member appointed by the governor. The commission is chartered to promote aviation and air commerce.

Commission Chairman Delphin Gantt Jr. said he agrees with the commission's executive director, Paul Werts, that a landing fee for general aviation would discourage users and hurt the Hilton Head and state economies.

As for asking Haley to intervene, Gantt said he's glad to see the enthusiasm.

"So many airports in the state are not as proactive," he said. "Actually, it's refreshing and encouraging to see these folks so adamant about this issue. ... I appreciate the enthusiasm by council members and the community, but the governor and her staff recognize the commission and aeronautics division are the experts in this matter."

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