One bad apple

I find it ironic that shortly after our successful Airport Appreciation Day at Pickens County Airport in Jasper, Ga., a local “”professional”” pilot found the ear of the managing editor of the Pickens “”Progress,”” our local source of news, gossip and general hearsay. The resulting article contained more than 2,200 words, a lengthy piece for our newspaper, and in one fell swoop all the hard work of several dedicated aviation enthusiasts was undone.

The pilot, “”Mr. Smith,”” was not complementary. Mr. Smith is one of those types; you know, “”I will get what I want or else”” types. Although he’s rarely seen at our facility, years ago he demanded a hangar or claimed he would sue the entire county government, their spouses, their children and their dogs. Space was found and Smith got his hangar. He now stores his boats and red sports car in it.

Our area is experiencing tremendous growth, and the local governments, both city and county, are trying to manage it. The task, no doubt, is daunting. Part of this growth management involves the airport. Two things have happened to draw attention to our sleepy little facility. First, the runway is 5,000 feet long. We attract larger airplanes. It took a while, but now we have regular jet traffic, most of which is tourist based. Next, our county industrial authority purchased 68 acres adjacent to the airport in hopes of developing a successful airport industrial park with access to the runway.

Recently, county officials, along with airport management, announced a long-term plan for the airport, which addresses the needs of personal and corporate aviation, along with the addition of a taxiway to the new industrial park. A positive article appeared in the “”Progress,”” with a picture of the new T-hangars that were built without any local taxpayer money. The commissioner assured citizens that an improved airport would not bring about the noise pollution they feared. The citizens are happy, the government is happy and the pilots and business executives who use the airport are happy.

Not so Mr. Smith. He is not happy. He apparently was not consulted about the new plan and calls it “”pie in the sky.”” It would appear that Smith, who has about 750,000 hours (at least that’s how he sounds) of “”professional”” flight time, finds the plan “”naïve.”” He claims growth is impossible without an FBO such as the one operated by his friend, Mr. Jones. It would seem that Mr. Jones wasn’t consulted either, and the paper spends another 500 words on his displeasure.

The irony is that, had Mr. Smith attended the airport advisory committee meetings as invited, he would have known that while the local “”unprofessional”” pilots and government officials lack 750,000 flight hours total, they did do some consulting. It just wasn’t at Mr. Jones’ facility. They took a trip to the west and admired the facilities and management of Tom B. David Field at Calhoun, Ga., which is smoothly operated under the watchful eye of Dwight Albritton.

Calhoun’s airport is an inviting oasis for private and recreational pilots, with hangars and ramp space in abundance. Its fueling facilities are state-of-the-art and the terminal is comfortable for passengers and pilots alike. On the other hand, the area has a large corporate clientele and the services and accommodations are just as pleasing for them, all this from a government-operated facility.

Our reality is that Pickens County will never have large ramps and rows of hangars. Due to geography, we’re too limited on space, but we can apply for funding and make what we have the best it can be to serve all areas of aviation and meet the needs of the citizens of Pickens County.

It would seem that with so much experience, Mr. Smith would have thought carefully about his actions and controlled his tongue in light of the post-Sept. 11 public mindset regarding airports. If he were active and involved at JZP, he would have known that we have spent a lot of time, money and hard work to promote a positive image of our airport.

In my rebuttal to the editor, I concluded, “”That is, perhaps, the issue that disturbs me the most about this so-called newsworthy article. In the 12 years that my family has been based at Juliet Zulu Papa, I have never seen Mr. Smith lift his hand in support of our efforts or any effort that benefited the airport. If he feels so strongly about the direction the airport is going, I challenge him to ‘put his money where is mouth is’ and call Mike Setser, our JZP beautification director. Mike will be glad to put a paintbrush in his hand. Or Jimey Fouts, our mowing director, will be glad to ink him in an appointment with the bush hog.”” Somehow I don’t think Mr. Smith will show.

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