Commission discusses April’s storm impact on airport

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The Lowcountry Regional Airport Commission held a virtual meeting on Thursday May 14 to discuss April’s impact on the airport.

Commission member Joe Berkavich remarked that between Covid-19 and the recent tornado, there was quite a bit of physical and economical damage.

According to Tommy Rowe, manager, and Roger Medlin, operations manager for the airport, the tornado that ripped through Colleton County several weeks ago was the worst ever witnessed.

Twenty-two aircraft were totaled, several more suffered serious damage, a few had minor damage, and a few were undamaged.

The airport lost 11 rentable hangars with revenue lost at $2,385. Doors were completely blown in due to tornado pressure.

Hangar G was damaged 10%; 50% of Hangar C was damaged; Hangar B, 10%; Hangar A, 30%; and the World War II hangar, 15%.

Lowcountry Aviation’s hangar was severely damaged, and its new hangar had minor damage.

“What is sad, and somewhat worrisome, is that some of the older hangars no longer have parts available to replace damage,” said Rowe. “The buildings were so old.” The old wooden “T” hangars were completely destroyed.

Thankfully, the terminal itself had mostly minor damage including some outside fans, lights, skylights, insulation, rocking chairs and columns. They were only out of business for two days. But several hundred feet of fencing around the airport was damaged, causing security concerns. The chain link fence located on Robertson has been approved for replacement.

The fuel farm received substantial damage and replacement parts for the credit card system had to be replaced. The iron stairs and walkway that led to the top of the fuel tanks were ripped off.

Fuel sales are considerably off with less than 6,500 gallons sold in April, due to COVID-19 and the tornado. Typically, fuel sales average 25,000 in April. Last year, according to Becky Hill, revenue fuel sales were $34,000. But on a positive note, fuel prices are down so the airport was able to purchase more fuel at a considerable discount.

Some taxiway and runway lights, as well as a runway sign, will have to be replaced, also.

Mayor Bill Young was pleased that runways were back to normal so quickly. He thanked those who assisted in clean up after the tornado — the Civil Air Patrol leaders and cadets, Ackerman Landscaping and IP Builders. Walterboro sent a street sweeper to further clean the runways of small debris.

The Comprehensive Airport Drainage project is continuing, and water outflow has been corrected. Beavers had dammed the system, but the project is on track.

The ILS Precision landing antenna array was seriously damaged due to the tornado, but that has been repaired and put back by the FAA.

Unfortunately, air traffic has been slow to return to the area. “These are lean times for our airport,” said Mayor Young. But the commission is gratified by a $30,000 federal Covid-19 grant and some insurance recovery money that will help defray some of the expenses to rebuild.

The airport had a difficult month, but according to secretary-treasurer Chris Bickley, things are looking up.

“We can already see an increase in fuel sales and air traffic so far in May, so we are hopeful that things will get back to normal,” said Bickley.

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