Fixed-base fuel shortage causes council concern

COVINGTON -- A month after the Covington City Council urged the fixed base operator at Covington Municipal Airport to meet the requirements of its contract with the city, there is concern by officials that isn't happening.

The council was informed by City Manager Steve Horton on Tuesday at its Strategic Planning Retreat that a "large customer" had been unable to get JetA fuel at Covington Municipal Airport and had to fly to another airport to fuel up. Fuel delivery was expected to take place Wednesday morning, but Horton informed the council at a noon work session Wednesday that it had not arrived and had been delayed until around 2:30 p.m.

"If there's not fuel in the tank by 2:30, there will be before we go home today. The city will be buying it," Horton said. It's a critical issue because pilots who land expecting fuel may not have enough to make it to another airport to fill up, he said.

Airport Engineer Vincent Passariello said the fuel was delivered as promised Wednesday afternoon.

The council agreed to discuss the issue at its next gathering, a called meeting set for next Wednesday at City Hall. The work session will begin at 5:30 p.m. with the meeting to begin at 6:30 p.m. Horton said representatives for Dixie Jet Services Inc. will be asked to be "front and center."

Dixie Jet Manager Rusty Anglin said the JetA fuel supply was nearly depleted due to an unexpected spike in sales over the weekend and on Monday. There was fuel remaining but it was not enough to meet the customer's needs, he said. One customer was affected by the shortage, he said.

Anglin said the FBO sold close to 2,000 gallons of fuel during a three-day period; about 500 to 600 gallons is typical for that time period, he said. An order for fuel was placed as usual on Friday and was expected to arrive Tuesday morning. But the supplier was running behind due to demand for the upcoming holiday weekend, Anglin said.

"It's not uncommon to have problems with dispatching before a holiday. You have to get in line. They won't do same day delivery," Anglin said.

Dixie Jet's relationship with the city has been in question for the past year, and the issue came to a head last spring when Mayor Kim Carter recommended the council review early termination of its contract.

One of the primary reasons for moving in a different direction, Carter said at the time, was to give the city more control over the future development of the airport and to maximize property taxes, sales taxes and job creation in light of existing industries in the area. The mayor proposed that the city would take over operations at the airport.

The city has also had numerous complaints regarding the FBO, ranging from a shortage of fuel to poor customer service to not maintaining hours of operation required by the contract. Dixie Jet has also been behind on storm water utility payments.

Dixie Jet President Bob Riddell previously said the economy has impacted his business as well as the closing of the airport or disruption of business during 20 of the last 48 months due to improvement projects, and he has been paying many expenses out of his pocket.

Officials have been hesitant to terminate the contract, which expires in 2019, saying they want to give Dixie Jet a chance to recoup its losses. But council members now say they're ready to discuss termination again if Dixie Jet is not abiding by the contract.

"We gave them the benefit of the doubt but it's very clear fuel has to be there. If they're not going to do what they say they're going to do, I've got a real problem with it," Councilman Chris Smith said Tuesday.