Airport official defends Facebook post

By Andy Winemiller -

An airport official defended his stance after an angry Facebook post surfaced regarding a tenant at the airport.

Dr. Tom Jackson vented about the Angel family, who is lobbying to have airport board members removed from office.

Robin Angel brought concerns regarding airport operations before the Surry County Board of Commissioners in September. Her husband, Dennis Angel, is a pilot, and she said the couple stores their aircraft at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport.

Angel’s concerns regarded what she called a frayed hangar cable on the door of the hangar in which the couple stores aircraft and an incident in which a plane the couple owns, in part, was damaged.

Angel accused airport fixed base operator, Ra-Tech, of damaging a wingtip on an aircraft.

Airport officials say the plane was damaged by another airport tenant, who subsequently paid for the damages. They also believe the cable does not need to be immediately replaced and noted officials at the airport are monitoring the cable.

However, Angel’s remarks also honed in on a concern regarding Jackson, an Airport Authority board member. She claimed that Jackson, who was first appointed by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners in 2014, libelled her family in a Facebook post.

The initial post, which accused Dennis Angel of having “lost it again,” was posted to the Facebook page of the couple’s son, Wyatt, a freshman in college.

Robin Angel called that Facebook post “unbecoming of a member of a public board,” but now another post has surfaced.

“Pi—ed off people are like mushrooms!” wrote Jackson. “They keep popping up after the old ones rot and go away.”

“Thanks Dennis! Like I tell everyone. I was here before you got here, and I will be here when you leave.”

Jackson goes on to recount issues with others at the airport, such as former Airport board member Billy Hicks, flight instructor Mike Venable and a Brad Thomas.

“But my favorite pi—ed off person was always Brad Thomas. Much less boring than Hicks, Venable or Dennis (Angel). R.I.P. Brad! Looks like a good place to make my last parachute jump, doesn’t it. I always promised him that I would.”

The post was accompanied by a picture of Thomas’s headstone. He died in 1999.

“One thing is sure that I’ve found about being around small airports for 50 years. There will always be at least one a—hole around! Isn’t that right Dennis? And if he does not have the guts to make a big stink, he can always get his wife to do it for him. So when one a—hole leaves, another always takes his place.”

“It’s hard to make a comment since I don’t know the entire situation,” said Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe after viewing the post. “That’s something I wish nobody would say, much less an appointed official.”

The mayor then pivoted to a point he has also been trying to make in Mount Airy government.

“Why can’t we all just get along?” asked Rowe.

Jackson said since accepting a seat on the airport board, controversy has seemingly never stopped.

“There have been a lot of problems at the airport,” remarked Jackson.

He noted multiple lawsuits in which former board member and airport tenant Billy Hicks sued the airport authority. Federal and state courts and the Federal Aviation Administration ruled in favor of the authority.

“That was money we didn’t have,” said Jackson of the thousands of dollars spent in legal fees to combat the complaints.

Jackson said there’s a lot of truth to his mushroom metaphor. After his more than 50 years at small airports he has “seen it all.”

He said airports are often filled with pilots who have “Type-A personalities,” They are set in their ways and can be confrontational.

Jackson said Angel, who he noted has been a friend for many years, “can be a little hot-headed at times.” He said there was even one incident which led some board members to urge police involvement. An emergency board meeting was called in the wake of the incident.

However, Jackson said he lobbied to let the incident slide, and he hoped cooler heads would prevail.

The Mount Airy dentist also said he has an affectionate place in his heart for Angel’s son, to whom he has lent aircraft in the past. Jackson said the initial post to Wyatt Angel was made as an attempt to have the younger Angel calm his father down.

“Them saying I libelled him was very hurtful,” noted Jackson.

Jackson said he calls it like it is and defended his remarks, saying if somebody acts in a certain manner, he might call them a name that portrays the manner in which they are acting.

The post was also only meant for viewing by members of the airport’s pilot’s association, said Jackson.

He added airport officials are doing an outstanding job of running the airport and growing it for the purposes of better suiting the area’s taxpayers.

“Dennis needs to realize the airport is not an old man’s flying club,” said Jackson. “It is here for the community.”

Jackson said he was further concerned when he saw Angel circulating a petition at a local football game to have airport authority members replaced.

“It’s difficult to find people with the knowledge of aviation and the ability to run something the size of the airport,” said Jackson, noting a multi-million dollar runway expansion is under way, an effort he hopes will lead to more commercial aircraft being based in Mount Airy.

He said the right team, led by Airport Authority chair John Springthorpe, is in place at the airport. He believes Ra-Tech is also the best fixed base operator to have run operations at the airport since he began flying decades ago.

Jackson said the remarks he made about parachuting onto the grave of Thomas may have appeared to be in poor taste, but they were actually a long-standing joke between he and the former airport authority chair.

When Jackson started parachuting and doing aerobatics out of the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport he said Thomas adamantly opposed his actions. Jackson fought Thomas on the issue, with federal authorities ruling he could take part in such activities at the airport.

He said throughout the decades he buried the hatchet with Thomas, even helping him move out of his hangar shortly before his death.

However, Jackson said a standing joke always remained — he would jump onto Thomas’s burial site. Though it got under Thomas’s skin a little, it was always meant as a joke.

“I used to joke with him about that all the time,” said Jackson. “It was a joke and was meant as a joke.”

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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