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Economy: County’s other port has impact on development

Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Doug Decker said his first flight into the Georgetown County Airport was over 30 years ago when he came from Wisconsin to meet his prospective in-laws, who lived at Wedgefield.

He told a small crowd gathered for Aviation Week ceremonies at the Georgetown County Airport this week that the upgrades have put it in a position to attract jobs and economic growth in the near future. The landing strip was built during World War II and turned over to the county for a general aviation airport. Decker remembers walking past trailers when he first visited here, but the new terminal makes a favorable first impression on visitors today.

Decker has moved his plane from Horry County to one of the new hangars built at the Georgetown County Airport. “The bureaucracy here is low,” he said, “half the size of Horry.”

Decker knows his way around airport bureaucracy. A pilot since 1964, he was presented with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award in recognition of 50 years of safe flying. He’s served on the Utah State Aeronautics Board, the Salt Lake City Aeronautics Advisory Board, the capital improvements committee of Milwaukee International Airport and spearheaded efforts to open Wendover Air Force Base in Utah for public use. In recognition of his efforts the city named it Decker Field.

Decker said extending the main runway to 6,000 feet, adding instrument landing gear to Runway 5 and improving the ramp will bring more planes to Georgetown. The county should be exploiting the airport’s competitive advantages. He said all the electronics and avionics in airplanes must be upgraded by 2020. “Is there an opportunity to have an avionics shop here?” he asked.

The flight and manufacture of drones is another field wide open for Georgetown Airport. “Myrtle Beach has lost the drone business,” he said, “because of the cost and bureaucracy.” He added that contractors are finding it expensive to do aviation related business in Charleston. Georgetown, with its port, could capitalize on that opportunity, he said.

With ample land available, Georgetown County Airport could accommodate specialized maintenance or mothballing. South Carolina eliminated the tax on airplane repair material and labor this year. North Carolina still has a 6.75 percent tax on repair costs. “We need to exploit the fact we have a great tax atmosphere here,” he said.

And there’s the beach.

Angus and Joyce Mercer hire a pilot to take them between Charlotte and their Litchfield Beach vacation house in their 2001 Piper turbo-prop. They keep their car in a garage at the airport when they are in Charlotte.

Joyce Mercer said they have owned airplanes and flown themselves for many years, but her husband is blind in one eye and had to give up his pilot’s license. The flight to Charlotte takes about 50 minutes, as opposed to a good four-hour drive. “We love the Georgetown Airport,” she said. “When we call and tell them we’re coming they have our car out waiting for us.”

Decker recommended the county hire a consultant to promote the airport’s business side. “It’s hard to do planning without consultants,” he said. “As a business person, I ran five different businesses for Johnson Controls. When I did acquisition planning, I always hired outside consultants to help me focus on what the priorities were.”

Decker said Congress just changed the medical requirements for pilots of private airplanes. They no longer need a doctor’s examination every two years. “It will encourage people to continue flying,” he said.

Another advantage for Georgetown County is having Dr. Gerald Harmon on the state aeronautics board. “We can get his ear,” Decker said, “when we have things going on.”

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