CARTERET COUNTY - It was a standoff that could have had explosive repercussions. It was a standoff that a local business owner described as "regrettable."
Southern Air at MRH owner Ryan Segrave said that despite the possible explosive situation, he doesn't think safety was an issue when an employee of his purposely used a jet fuel truck to block the exit of a running plane.
Pitting jet fuel against spinning propellers was a standoff that was created over $85 -- a facility fee that planes are commonly charged when landing at an airport.
The Ford truck with a fuel tank as its payload sat about 20 feet in front of the whirring propellers of a Beechcraft Super King Air 200, as shown in video and the accompanying picture. The plane seats 11, according to flightaware.com.
A Southern Air at MRH employee positioned the truck Sunday morning to enforce the airport facility fee. The plane's pilot was trying to fly off and avoid the facility fee for the second time in a week, Segrave said.
But the pilot, Chad McLeod, said he had called ahead to apologize after forgetting to pay the earlier fee.
The actions of the fuel truck driver were "out of control," McLeod said. "You don't put people's lives in jeopardy for any amount of money."
McLeod said he had every intention of paying the fees by calling when he reached his next stop; his flight schedule did not allow him to stop and pay the bill at the airport Sunday, he said.
Southern Air at MRH runs ground operations for Michael J. Smith Field, the airport serving Beaufort and Morehead City.
Denard Harris, after stepping off the plane Sunday, watched as the truck -- with red stickers reading "flammable" -- was wheeled in front of the plane.
Harris called the sight "frightening."
"We were definitely shocked at how close the truck was to the plane," Harris said.
But Segrave said safety was not compromised because blocks, called "chocks," were on either side of the plane's front wheel, limiting the plane's movement.
Harris ended up paying the fee himself, allowing the plane to leave.
Ken Lohr -- chairman of the Beaufort-Morehead City Airport Authority, which owns the airport -- said he is "disappointed visitors would be treated like this."
Lohr said it's Southern Air at MRH that makes the rules on the ground, not the airport authority.
The plane is owned by Sky High Air of Orangeburg, S.C., according to flightaware.com.
Safety risk or not, Sunday's situation has propelled a change in policy for Southern Air. If there is a question of payment in the future, employees at Southern Air will call police instead of intervening, Segrave said.
Segrave on Friday released a statement. It reads as follows:
To all: This is Ryan Segrave. I have been monitoring and dealing with the "fuel truck standoff" situation all week. I feel it has become necessary at this point to "defend" our position. First, let me say that we have run the operations at this field for 10 years and have run 3 other airports in the last 15 years. We have NEVER had to deal with a situation like this at any airport. It is unfortunate on many levels and there are a lot of opinions. Since this situation, we have indeed created a policy to handle the situation differently in the future. The important thing here is the perception of an unsafe situation for passengers. There are a lot of opinions on the actual safety, but like someone said below, in order to jump the chocks the pilot would have to do so intentionally. Regardless, the situation will be handled differently in the future because we don?t want to ever make a passenger nervous.Now, as for the pilot?s side of the story and the legitimacy of the facility fee. The pilot refused payment two days prior and said he would call us at his next stop to pay. We did nothing to prevent him from leaving. He didn?t call. On Sunday morning before coming to our facility, he called us and had a confrontational conversation with my employee. He inquired about the fees and then told the employee it was ridiculous and that he was not going to pay the fee. He said he would not be shutting down and he didn?t want to buy the 60 gallons necessary to waive the fee. He also commented that he had already ?lost enough money on this trip? so he wasn?t going to shut down, which tells me there is more to this story than we know. He was hostile on the first visit and hostile again on the phone. The fact that he said he was calling to apologize is a clear lie and there were several witnesses to the situation who have backed this up. I think it is also important to note that if the pilot thought his passengers were in a life-threatening position, he would be obligated to immediately shut down his engines.Regarding fees: several times over the past 10 years we have compared our ramp fees and waiving scale to our competitors. Just this week we called 25 FBOs again from NJ to FL to inquire about their fees. What we found are these averages: Facility Fees $121 Fuel to waive fee: 100 g Fuel Price: $6.12. In comparison, our fee for a King Air: $85 Fuel to waive fee: 60 g Fuel Price: $5.75. Although there are some airports that don?t have these charges, many do, especially destination airports like ours. In our survey, 22 of 25 FBOs charge facility fees. Many of these airports also have a ?landing fee? that is not even waived with a fuel purchase. Chad McLeod ended his day in Aspen, CO. Go check on their fees!In a recent article published by the AOPA, Bill Dunn, Vice President of AOPA, was quoted, ?While the airport clearly has the authority to implement a fee structure that will make the airport as self-sufficient as possible under the current airport conditions as provided under the Federal Aviation Administration grant assurances, such fees must be fair and reasonable without any unjust discrimination.? (June 7) Our charges are legal, reasonable, and necessary for the continuation of our operation. Additionally, these fees are published in the AOPA directory.All this being said, we regret the situation. We service dozens of turbine aircraft every week and 100s of piston aircraft and 99% of them leave very satisfied time and time again. We do not want any of our passengers to have any anxiety at the airport and policies have been adopted to make sure this situation does not happen again. The employee has zero incidents in 8 years of employment. He is well known for his customer service and lives for aviation. He was put in a bad spot without proper guidance and was trying to protect the company.
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