With the recent completion of a new corporate hangar for jets, the Statesboro/Bulloch County Airport (SBCA) has become a strong alternative to the Savannah Airport for companies and recreational flyers looking for a place to park their planes.
"We have 50 smaller planes that are stored in our 'T' hangars," said Jeff Herrington, airport manager of the Statesboro/Bulloch County Airport. "We have another ten to 15 plane owners waiting on a hangar space. The demand is clearly there."
Herrington said the new commercial hangar is divided into two units, both of which have been rented.
"We just felt like it was time to build the commercial hangar," he said. "Jets burn a ton of fuel, and they are very good business for an airport. The interest in our new hangar was immediate. We are very proud to say that both units are leased."
The SBCA, co-owned by the county and city of Statesboro, operates as a department of the county, renting hangar space, selling jet and propeller plane fuel, and leasing buildings to companies that service the airplane community.
The airport has seen tremendous growth since 1992 according to George Hitt, owner of TopFlight Aviation, a brokerage firm specializing in the sale of aircraft. Hitt's offices are located in one of the buildings at the SBCA.
"When I put my office out here in 1992, we had five airplanes out here and six 'T' hangars," Hitt said. "We have grown from five to well over 60, plus the new commercial jets. The growth has just been amazing."
Herrington said it has become very expensive for pilots to use the Savannah Airport.
"A management company runs that airport, and the fees and cost of fuel there is much higher than here," he said. "Their jet fuel is approximately $2.00 more per gallon than ours, and they charge a fee to land and take off from that airport. We have no landing and take off fees. In fact, we do everything we can to accommodate and serve those that use our airport."
The SBCA has a very nice building for air travelers which has a pilots' lounge and a large meeting/board room. In addition, SBCA employees fill the airplanes up with fuel for no charge. It is a first class operation, with a friendly smile thrown in.
"We probably average six jets a week carrying developers or corporate executives into this airport," Herrington said. "This is the first place that they see. We want it to be very nice, inviting, and friendly. I am amazed at the number of developers that are flying into here."
Herrington said fortunately the commercial traffic that the airport receives has not declined with the downturn in the economy. However, the recreational flyer appears to be staying home.
"Flying for fun seems to have ground to a screeching halt," he said. "It is clearly tied to the price of fuel. It is so expensive that people aren't just taking up their planes for a joy ride much these days. People are still flying from location to location, because the price to fly and drive can be commensurate, but just to fly around, not so much right now."
Other airport tenants include Pegasus Air and Statesboro Aircraft Maintenance. Kathy Boykin, owner of Pegasus Air, said she has also seen the slowdown in the recreational flyer.
"We provide flight instruction and airplane rental among other things, and there has been some decline, but our business is still steady," Boykin said "We are very excited, because we are in the final phase of approval by the Veterans Administration to be one of the companies that can provide flight instruction to veterans as part of their benefits package. Their benefits package will cover a significant part of the cost."
Herrington said the airport conducts 50 operations on average per day - an operation is either an aircraft landing or takeoff.
"I don't think that most folks realize how busy we are out here," he said. "We have courier companies coming in and out picking up everything from UPS parcels to canceled checks. In addition we have a number of companies that come in and out of here on business on a regular basis. Even though the recreational flyer has parked his plane, the commercial business continues to grow."
Herrington said the airport is able to cover its costs, and put a little into reserve.
"The airport doesn't make money, but it does support itself," he said. "That is why we are able to keep our fuel costs low, and hangar rental reasonable. We are providing a service to our community. It is a very nice airport, something that our residents can be proud of."
Herrington said the Airport Committee Chairman Ellis Wood has been the driving influence behind the growth of the airport.
"Mr. Wood has contributed a tremendous amount of his time over the years supporting and planning for the continued growth of this airport," he said. "He realized a long time ago how important a nice, functional airport is to the ongoing prosperity of our community. I think people should know how much Ellis Wood has contributed."
The SBCA is located on 900 acres. Its longest runway stretches more than 6,000 feet. It has an Instrumental Landing System as well as an Automated Weather Observing System.