As we have reported several times over the past few months, the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority is embroiled in a dispute with a former authority member, William Alfred “Billy” Hicks Jr.
That has taken two forms: legal action by Hicks against the authority in both federal and state courts, and a complaint Hicks has made to the FAA alleging the airport has and continues to violate FAA standards of operation in a number of different areas.
The lawsuits stems from another, earlier controversy that erupted after local pilot Mike Venable’s flight instructions were banned from the airport. Venable had sued the airport, alleging his flight school was banned because it was taking business away from a similar enterprise operated by John Spane.
Spane also serves as the airport manager, which seems like it would be an obvious conflict of interest, but apparently his friends on the airport authority felt the facility should only house one flight school, and it wasn’t going to be one competing against Spane.
Hicks was perhaps the lone authority board member who sided with Venable. He resigned from his post after that first controversy emerged, and then he lost his hanger space at the airport after Spane alleged Hicks broke several airport rules.
Hicks, in taking legal action, has alleged he has been unfairly targeted by Spane and the rest of the authority because he sided with Venable.
To be blunt, this sounds like a handful of guys with plenty of money — how many of the rest of Surry County’s population can afford their own airplane — in a squabble that really doesn’t mean anything to more than 99 percent of county residents.
The problem is, it’s those 99 percent of county residents who ultimately foot the bill for all of this. When the airport authority defends itself in these suits, it turns to the county for money to pay its legal fees, which have topped $100,000 and promise to continue growing.
And in the end we suspect little will change. Venable lost his lawsuit. Hicks has lost virtually every decision that’s been rendered so far, and we suspect that’s not going to change.
We understand Hicks’ anger and frustration. Kicking Venable out was a bush-league move at best, and then singling out Hicks for allegedly violating airport protocol — his suit alleges most pilots do in some form or fashion, but he was singled out because of his support for Venable — was petty and vindictive and, quite frankly, beneath how honorable business persons and politicians behave.
If violations of FAA requirements are going on, then those should be investigated and addressed by federal authorities.
As for the lawsuits, it’s time to stop the bickering. The parties should sit down in a room, work out an agreement that is acceptable by both parties — even if it means swallowing some pride and eating a little crow by all involved — and then move on.
Taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for these sorts of personal differences.