It is not uncommon for a local government to operate an FBO, but for a county to operate three of them might be considered unusual. Such is the case for South Carolina’s Horry County and its Beach Aviation Services, which manages the lone FBOs at Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR), Grand Strand Airport (CRE) in North Myrtle Beach, and Conway-Horry County Airport (HYW).
MYR is the flagship and the county has operated the FBO there since 1994, when the joint-use airport (formerly Myrtle Beach Air Force Base) was fully decommissioned by the military and turned over to the county. At that time, the now-empty military side was designated for GA use and the FBO was set up in an existing building. A 10,000-sq-ft terminal was built in 2009 and includes a passenger lobby/waiting area with refreshment bar, pilot lounge, snooze room, shower facility with towel service, crew cars, onsite car rental, linen laundry service, and A/V-equipped 14-seat conference room and 80-seat subdivideable training/event space. A unique amenity is golf carts that customers can borrow to drive to Market Common, a high-end shopping area on the airport property, which features more than a dozen restaurants. Construction will begin soon on a new hotel there as well.
The FBO complex also includes 270,000 sq ft of heated hangar space, which can accommodate aircraft as large as an Embraer Legacy 650. Construction on a $5 million, 18,000-sq-ft hangar with 28-foot-high doors, able to shelter the latest big business jets, will begin in the second quarter of 2019.
As for ramp space, the FBO has it in abundance, tallying more than 66 acres. “The reason we have so much ramp is [that the facility] was a former air force base, but because we have so much ramp space, we can accommodate anything,” said Kirk Lovell, Horry County Department of Airports director of air service and business development.
The facility, which is staffed from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. with after-hours callout available, is currently home to eight turbine-powered aircraft including a CJ3, and turboprops ranging from a King Air 200 to a pair of Pilatus PC-12s. Among its hangar tenants are an MRO provider, A&P technician school, a flight school, and a large helicopter tour provider with a fleet of 14 R-44s. Counting the helicopter activity, the airport sees more than 90,000 operations a year.
The airport recently completed a $20 million rehabilitation of its 9,500-foot runway surface and lighting, and it is about to embark on the first phase of a $30 million rebuild of Taxiways Alpha and Bravo.
When it comes to fuel pricing, the county’s department of airports looks to strike a fair balance for its customers. “I think understanding our role is key,” said Lovell. “We are running it like a business, but at the same time because we are government, we know the importance of promoting general aviation, so when it comes to pricing strategies we don’t have to worry about the shareholders. We have to make a little bit of a profit, but we don’t have to hit 10-20-30 percent margins.”
Lovell told AIN the Shell-branded location has seen tremendous growth of late in terms of fuel flowage. “For [Fiscal Year] 2018 which for us ended June 30, we had 1.932 million gallons combined jet-A and avgas [sales], which was up about 90 percent over last fiscal year.” He credits that increase to a variety of reasons, ranging from new music festivals and golf tournaments, to increased college sports charters, to larger aircraft arriving to take advantage of the destination’s attractions. “It doesn’t hurt that we’re less than a mile from the beach, and within 30 minutes there are over 100 golf courses,” he quipped. Given those attributes, the location, which has 22 full-time NATA-Safety 1st trained employees, sees golf activity pick up in the spring, blend into summer beach traffic, and then taper off into the fall golf season. “December, January, and February are very slow,” noted Lovell. “That’s when we catch up and do the deep cleaning and all the other work getting ready for the season.”
Each of FBOs at the three airports caters to a different customer type. “At MYR, the majority of the folks are business and corporate travelers,” Lovell explained. “Grand Strand, which is in North Myrtle Beach, is more casual, for vacation travel. We actually have quite a few people that use that facility as their base, so they base cars there and fly in regularly to their vacation home on the beach.” The Conway location, which has only one employee on duty at a time, serves mainly GA daytrippers looking to drop in for some genuine low-country cooking.
At all three locations, the philosophy is the same, according to Lovell. “It doesn’t matter what size aircraft you are coming in, we treat everyone with a high level of service just because we want everyone to feel welcome, like family.” He described one recent situation where a customer accidentally left the interior cabin lights on his aircraft for several days, draining the 24-volt battery. Upon learning this, one of the FBO’s linemen found a location that could charge it, removed the battery and after work took it there and reinstalled it the next day. The customer learned about this and attempted to tip the line technician who declined, saying, “This is just part of my job, and I enjoy it.”