Thursday, October 22, 2015

Editorial skirts illegal 2009 airport name change, bad branding decision on St. Augustine Airport Authority

Editorial: Airport isn't seeking name change
Posted: October 21, 2015 - 6:59pm | Updated: October 22, 2015 - 12:00am

There seems to be some misunderstanding over a request by airport authority attorney Douglas Burnett made before our county legislative delegation last week. We’ve received a few letters and phone calls expressing anything from outrage to concern over the airport board seeking to change the name of the facility — removing the “St. Augustine” part of the name and replacing it with “St. Johns.”

First, the airport is no longer named the St. Augustine Airport and hasn’t been for a while. That was a different time and there was a vastly different groove going on there.

Back then, the airport was a mecca for a barnstorming band of aerobatic pilots who plundered the skies over the Oldest City to the joy of onlookers and the horror of neighbors nearby.

It had more the feel of a biker gathering than a commercial terminal. And was a very cool place under the direction of Jim Moser, his dad Ernie and Jim Holland. They did things humans did not — such as Ernie and Jim tying their airplanes together with rope and flying that way.

Holland and the senior Moser formed the famous “Flying Circus” and founded the “aerobatic box” that allowed stunt planes to defy gravity and sanity above the airfield. It drew young aerobatic pilots here like moths to a fire.

Since 2009, the name has been — and will continue to be — the Northeast Florida Regional Airport. The marketing folks say that’s a better draw; and, truly, it is a countywide facility in its scope of service.

What the airport authority is asking the legislature to do is to change its “proper” name from the St. Augustine/St. Johns County Airport Authority to the St. Johns County Airport Authority.Burnett says that the request is simply to make the name more inclusive. For instance, it would also be the Ponte Vedra and the St. Augustine Beach board in geography practice.

So, who cares? A rose by any other name is still going to be called “the airport authority” by 90 percent of the population. Printing new stationery will be the biggest obstacle.

Just in case we might be missing something, we checked with St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver who cautioned that she’d not heard about it and might be missing something, “but I don’t really have a dog in this fight ... I think it makes sense to respect the wishes of that board ... It’s not a marketing thing.”

City manager John Regan said he’s asked airport director Ed Wuellner for a written explanation of the request, and plans to put it on the consent agenda for city commissioners to discuss. That’s the right call.

There is a second request from the board that probably won’t go down as easily in the public eye, drawing some fire from the usual suspects. The board is asking that the legislature also amend the charter to allow board members to vote themselves a stipend/paycheck of up to $7,500 annually. Unless we’re missing something, it remains the only elected board in the county that works for free. (Mosquito board members currently receive $400 a month for their time).

We’ll save the space for another editorial down the road and say that we support paying board members for the work they do.

The airport is a much different entity today, as a commercial and charter hub — albeit in its toddler stages.

Board members have a full plate of complicated matters, and are responsible for a budget pushing $10 million.

And $7,500 seems a good number — sufficient to compensate, yet too small to attract those interested in a paycheck over background and service.

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