Retired Air Force pilot Carlos Salinas is wrapping up just his second month in charge of the Pickens County Airport (also known by the Federal Aviation Administration designation LQK), but he has some extensive changes in mind for the place.
“(County Administrator) Gerald Wilson told me to come in here, assess what is happening and tell him what I think is the way forward,” said Salinas, a 1992 graduate of Clemson University. “…We really need to grow a community out here and tie more into the Pickens County Commerce Center.”
Salinas’ wish list includes getting the runway milled and repaved, adding more hangar space and offering more maintenance and other support options to corporate and individual airplane owners. And there’s already a waiting list of more than 70 plane owners who want hangar space there as soon as it becomes available.
The runway is cracking in several spots and could use new asphalt, as well as lengthening to better handle the corporate jet traffic, according to Salinas. He said there is probably some help available from the FAA for that work, which would allow him and Wilson to concentrate the money raised locally on other facility needs.
“The FAA is usually amenable to horizontal construction projects, like runaways, but not so much with hangars,” Salinas said.
According to Salinas and county spokeswoman Lauren Gilstrap, the hangars will probably require some sort of long-term repayment schedule in order for the user fees they generate to cover the cost of construction.
None of the improvements have been formally approved by Wilson or the Pickens County Council, but the $9 million or more needed to pay for the work over the next decade is likely to be raised from several local, state and federal sources beyond airport users.
The improvements would pay off for the county, according to Salinas, by complementing the county’s economic development efforts with the hangar space and support services that many corporate prospects look for when considering Pickens County as a place to set up shop.
Salinas came to the new post well-qualified. His Air Force work included setting up airfields in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Oman to support U.S. military efforts in southern Asia, and he has been a local flight instructor for several years.
Nonetheless, the changes generated some local grumbling.
The Pickens County Council eliminated the county’s Aeronautical Commission when it hired Salinas to run the airport full-time. Council members explained that the move would lead to better long-term planning; in addition, they said Salinas reporting directly to them and Wilson made more sense than having the commission run the airport.
Former commission member Ray Tinkler wished Salinas good luck, but questioned why the commission was eliminated. None of its members were paid for their time and, though only volunteers, they managed to help Cooper get facilities updated and improve the airport’s finances.
“We worked on expansion plans all the time, but we never ran the airport,” said Tinkler. “We worked on the master plan, got the new terminal and hangars built, engaged consultants and got feedback from the FAA. It’s disingenuous for council members to say we weren’t needed...”
Cooper was offered a job under Salinas, but declined, according to county records obtained by The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail. Cooper did not respond to a request for comment.
Tinkler said no one should expect the airport to become a cash cow for the county.
“That’s not reasonable – there’s no way that airport becomes a profit center,” Tinkler said. “They aren’t going to be able to bank money from it, but there could be positive revenues from the hangars after they’re built and paid for.”