Airport fuel sales may continue

Published 7:56 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019


After receiving several phone calls from concerned members of the aviation community, the city of Franklin is no longer proposing to stop selling fuel at the city’s airport come July 1.

According to City Manager Amanda Jarratt, the decision she made earlier this month to do away with fuel sales was the result of a personnel cut she had recommended for the city’s fiscal year 2019-2020 budget, which will reduce the airport’s full-time staff from two employees to one, and its operating hours from seven days per week to just Monday through Friday. She explained that while one employee would be sufficient for refueling private aircraft with aviation gas, two would be needed to refuel larger, corporate aircraft with jet fuel, and to transfer fuel from the city’s supplier to the airport’s fuel farm.

But now, Jarratt and city staff say they’ve found a way to continue selling fuel while still keeping most of the budget cuts made to the airport. The new plan involves training someone from the city’s Public Works Department to assist with refueling operations. This person would be dispatched to the airport on an as-needed basis in lieu of a second full-time airport employee.

We typically know when they’re [planes] coming and when they need gas,” she said. “It’s rarely a surprise.”

To implement this plan, about $5,000 would need to be added back into the airport’s budget under the fuel maintenance and inspection line item that had been cut, Jarratt said.

The airport, Jarratt had previously remarked to The Tidewater News, operates at a deficit and has done so since the city acquired the facility years ago — owing to the fact that its fuel sales and hangar rental fees have not offset its operational expenses. As such, it is subsidized by the city’s general fund. It was for this reason that Councilman Greg McLemore again took issue with the city continuing to fund the airport, as he had done previously in March when he referred to it as a “losing operation.”

I don’t think we should even be considering operating a business that loses money every year,” McLemore said.

However, Mayor Frank Rabil said that by virtue of the city having accepted grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, it is obligated to keep the airport open for the next 20 years.

In other airport-related business that evening, Jarratt also announced that Airport Manager Jimmy Gray would be retiring effective June 20, which could potentially leave the city’s airport with a staff of zero if a new hire is not found before July 1 when the layoffs planned in the budget become effective.

We will ensure airport operations are maintained once Mr. Gray’s retirement becomes effective,” Jarratt said when asked about this possibility.

Gray, when asked why he decided to retire this year, said, “It’s time,” and made no mention of any of the proposed funding or personnel cuts to his department. He has worked for the city for the past 17 years.