NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Following the plane crash in a North Myrtle Beach R.V. campground Tuesday, Horry County Councilman Brent Schulz is raising questions about whether the nearby Grand Strand Airport should close.
"Everything around the airport, everything... around the airport is totally developed," Schulz pointed out while referencing a property map of the Grand Strand.
Schulz believes it may be time to close Grand Strand Airport because he says too many people are now in the flight path, and there is not enough open space around the airport to provide a safety zone for potential plane crashes. He points to Tuesday's crash near the airport and another crash a little further away in Little River Neck in July. The plane in that crash had taken off from Grand Strand Airport.
"Between the condominiums, the single family houses, the commercial right next door, I think it's a dangerous location at this point after so many years of it being there," Schulz said. "It's gotten so congested and so developed that the safety of the residents, to me, is more important than anything."
Schulz said he will likely present his concerns to Horry County's Public Safety committee for consideration. The committee may then take those concerns to the full council.
Horry County Director of Airports Michael La Pier said the Grand Strand Airport is well equipped to handle the planes that travel through it. He pointed out that the airport itself likely had nothing to do with the crashes.
"Ostensively, it's a very safe airport. We have over 50,000 operations annually. That's a take-off and a landing," La Pier said. "So it's not like this happens on a regular basis."
He said in a perfect world there would not be any development around an airport. However, he said that is unrealistic, and it is not a reason to close down.
"I don't think we should point at the development around that airport, and say that because it's highly developed now that the two can't be compatible," La Pier explained. "They certainly can, and they have been, and they will continue to be."
Paul Bennik lives and works near the airport, and he agrees safety should be reviewed after the crash. He says it also brings to the forefront thoughts of closing the airport for another reason.
"Does the county need to have two general aviation airports that close together?" Bennik asked. "They have a big facility down at the Myrtle Beach Airport."
He said he would only support closing the airport if it does not affect businesses that depend on it. Other North Myrtle Beach leaders are sure to object to the idea of closing the airport too. It is seen as a contributor to the local economy.
La Pier said looking at the business side of the airport is a totally different consideration.
"Certainly it's incumbent upon the [Horry County] Airport Department and the Myrtle Beach International Airport system to look at the business model for each or our airports, and we will be doing that over the course of the next few months and years - looking at how we can best utilize the assets that are our airports and how we can develop those so that each airport can be individually successful and be contributory to the large picture, which is the airport system itself," La Pier said.
"That being said, certainly duplication of facilities, duplication of services, is not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly you want to make sure you set up a business plan for each airport so they can be individually successful and not compete with each other."