Authority blocks use of county equipment

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 05:46 AM

County employees and county equipment can no longer be used to assist private businesses at the Rutherford County Airport.

During its meeting Tuesday night, the Airport Authority decided to halt the use of its tug to tow airplanes for any “aviation business.”

“You can’t do that,” said Bob Howard, Airport Authority chairman. “It’s like asking the county motor pool to provide a tow truck to pick up cars from a commercial business across from the courthouse.”

According to Authority members the airport tug has been used to tow aircraft out of hangars for operators at Marchman Field.

Howard said, under the direction of the county, it would not be allowable for any business that is “aviation-related.”

“I talked with county management about this and ran it by them,” Howard said. “I wanted to hold off but management said to just do it.

“The problem is the moment the tug attaches to the aircraft, the county and the Airport Authority is at risk.”

However, after examination, the new rule applies to just two businesses located at the airport — CAAMS and Plane Werks. According to airport staff, CAAMS has “about one” aircraft a month towed, meaning the bulk of the planes that will no longer be towed belong to Plane Werks.

That fact drew the ire of one Authority member.

“This is another attack by this board on Plane Werks,” said Bob Ralph, Authority member. “This is just another one, it is just thinly veiled.

“I think we should be encouraging the business out here and not discouraging.”

On Wednesday, Russell Hyde, owner of Plane Werks, said the move was targeting his business specifically.

“It absolutely is an attack on myself and Plane Werks,” Hyde said. “I think it is spurred by the lawsuit I have against two members of the Authority.”

In June, Hyde filed a civil lawsuit against Howard and Authority vice-chairman Keith Hunter, alleging invasion of privacy and civil conspiracy.

But Howard defended the move citing liability to the county if something were to happen to aircraft being towed by county equipment or by a county employee.

The Airport Authority took over operations of the airport after the resignation of the previous forward base operator (FBO) in 2012. Since that time, any employees of the airport have fallen under the county’s umbrella as has any equipment formerly leased by the FBO.

“It means you can’t go support a private business with county employees,” Hunter, said. “An FBO could do that because it would be their employees.

“We aren’t going to tow airplanes for those in private business.”

Howard said Hyde was given the opportunity to lease a tug at a rate of $10 but Hyde declined.

“I felt like there were too many strings attached and there would be questions of insurance and it would be micromanaged,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to be in business with the county.”

Wednesday, Hyde said he had remedied the issue.

I have purchased a new tug ... and it is coming to the field,” Hyde said.