Airport up for grabs

Published 1:48 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023

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The city of New Tazewell has offered Claiborne County government the chance to take over the Municipal Airport – this, after decades of ownership and millions in grant funds used by the city on significant airport improvements. The short answer to the question ‘why?’ is partially a lack of town personnel who can be spared to oversee and maintain the business end of the facility.

County Mayor Joe Brooks broached the subject during the regular monthly meeting of the Claiborne County Commission and again during the County Budget Committee meeting. Brooks gave a brief overview of the airport’s revenues and expenditures during the budget meeting. He said the city had submitted the numbers from 2019 through 2023 showing that the facility had garnered some $551,000 in revenue and had spent an adjusted $476,000 for expenses.

The expenditures include the estimated monies used to cover the city’s five percent matches on grants obtained for airport upgrades like those done on the runway extension, fencing and equipment.

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The question of supplying Jet-A fuel was discussed by the committee members. The special fuel is used for the bigger aircraft like the governor’s jet and those used for business by local industry like Englands and DeRoyal.

The main concern was the need for constant monitoring of the pumps which would likely go above-ground.

Jerry Hooper, who is the New Tazewell building inspector, longtime pilot and current airport manager, was mentioned during the jet fuel discussion.

Audience member Wayne Lee said Hooper could explain to the committee just why the county would not want jet fuel at the airport.

“He’s been a pilot since 1970. He knows. He’s been to all kinds of training. He’s not going to pull your leg. Just like when the governor flew in here from Nashville on his jet, he filled up that jet to get here and get back without having to buy any. Most jets that fly in here operate on that theory. Even if it was there, they wouldn’t buy it here,” said Lee.

He added that Hooper had told him that there isn’t that much jet traffic at the airport.

Brooks responded, saying that if the county were to equip the airport with an AWOS system, the facility would increase in jet and other traffic.

Later in the meeting, Brooks spoke of the airplane fuel pricing changes and how it affected purchases.

“At that time, the fuel was priced $1.83 cents higher than the purchase price. They lowered it down to fifty cents higher than the purchase price. In one month’s time, they generated more revenue than they had in the previous three months. These pilots have readers so, when they pick up the airport designation, it pops up the fuel price,” said Brooks.

He explained his take on why New Tazewell is ready to offload the airport.

“There’s been some squabbling and I think (New Tazewell Mayor Jerry Beeler) is over it and sees it as a headache and is not willing to fool with it anymore.”

Hooper will be asked to join in the discussions during an upcoming budget committee meeting.

The airport was created by avid local pilots in the 1940s from a portion of pasture land with a dirt landing strip running down the center of the designated property. As the decades passed, it was officially taken on as a partnership between the county and cities.

Tazewell and Claiborne County eventually gave up their portions and the fledgling facility grew by leaps and bounds under the direction of the city of New Tazewell.