By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Four members of the Atmore City Council approved during Monday’s (November 27) meeting a contract under which a Pensacola flight school will take over management of day-to-day operations at the local airport.
The performance agreement between the city and SkyWarrior Flight Support Inc. will add several services not currently available at Atmore Municipal Airport and will give the city a bigger cut of airport revenues.
Although issuance of a proclamation designating November as National Home Care & Hospice Month in the city was later added (see photo in this edition), the airport agreement was initially the only item on the meeting agenda.
Mayor Jim Staff had trouble focusing on the task at hand, immediately asking for a motion to approve the contract after the “housekeeping” portion of the agenda was completed.
City Attorney Larry Wettermark explained that the rules had to be suspended before the agreement could be put up for a vote, and that a unanimous roll call vote was required of council members to bring it to the table.
The mayor again asked for a motion, but District 2’s Jerome Webster broke in with a request that the council hear more from the lawyer about the pact before voting on it.
“For the past several years, the airport has been run basically without a written agreement,” Wettermark explained. “We issued a request for a detailed proposal, which is a state law, for operation of the airport in terms of what services they (a potential bidder) could bring to the airport and what compensation the city would be paid. We only got one proposal.”
He then enumerated some of the changes in revenues the city could expect under the agreement and announced one of the major improvements that were part of the contract, which runs for five years.
“The city will now receive a portion of fuel sales and you’ll get a better cut of hangar rentals (six new hangars are currently under construction),” the city’s legal counsel explained. “Also, one of the services you do not have right now is a qualified mechanic.”
Don Flynn, who is an FAA certified aircraft mechanic and authorized inspector, will serve as airport manager and director of maintenance for SkyWarrior, which has specialized in civilian and military flight training for more than a decade.
Wettermark stated further that the Pensacola flight school would train commercial airline pilots at the local airfield, and Flynn said the company is in discussions with Southwest Airlines on a contract that would make SkyWarrior a “feeder” for the major air carrier.
Flynn said the company would employ as many local residents as possible and would hopefully soon begin training aircraft mechanic candidates from at least one local high school.
“We’re going to hire as many local people as we can,” he said. “We’ve already talked to Escambia County High School about getting a couple of work study students who might be interested in getting their aircraft mechanic’s license. We will provide on-the-job training to qualify them for that.”
Flynn said he was traveling among several smaller airports, inspecting them, when someone told him he should look to Atmore as a possible location for his flight school.
“He said to take a look at Atmore,” the SkyWarrior official said. “He said it’s a beautiful airport, but nobody’s doing any maintenance. That’s what started the conversation, and everything the mayor has said to me from Day 1 is that he was looking for the best value for the City of Atmore.”
Flynn promised to “set up a maintenance facility in the big hangar,” and said he “hopes to have jet fuel in about 90 days.” The airport will offer aviation gasoline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Our phone number will be posted at the airport for breakdowns, or if (a pilot) just needs a ride. I will be your face for the next five years for responsibility of the airport. I think you’re going to love the improvements; it’s going to be pretty impressive.”