According to this article in the Branson Daily News, which apparently ran in Saturday’s issue, M. Graham Clark Airport (PLK) was turned over to Taney County by the College of the Ozarks this past July because of the College’s inability to continue funding the airport’s upkeep. The local municipalities have been pledging contributions of funds since the turnover to assist in the County’s efforts. Branson is apparently the biggest contributor, according to the referenced article, due to its initial $10,000 contribution for start-up costs, and pledge of up to $40,000 over the next three years.

The City of Hollister’s Board of Aldermen met last Thursday and voted to make its own contribution in the form of "material support," as City Administrator Rick Ziegenfuss called it. Specifically, the assistance Hollister will provide includes free water and sewer service (up to $2,500 per annum), snow removal, maintenance of the water/sewer lines, LEO patrols, and public relations assistance.

Such cooperation amongst municipal and county governing bodies may sometimes seem more the exception than the rule. Frequently motivated by residents’ concerns over noise, traffic, and fiscal responsibility, some local leaders oppose the location of airport facilities within their boundaries. Others recognize the obvious benefits to the local economy (which I would imagine would be especially true with O&D airports near tourist destinations like Branson, Missouri). The tension between these competing interests can make for conflict between various levels of government. So it’s nice to see those various governing bodies affected by the turnover of an airport stepping up to the plate and working together.

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Good question.  In one sense, at least, it’s not so much one thing, as it is dozens of things, all in the airport context, such as …

  • Commercial lease of real property;
  • Contracts – negotiation, drafting, interpreting, and litigating;
  • Employment law (FLSA, USERRA, FMLA, ADA – just to name a few);
  • Ethics and professional responsibility law;
  • Construction law (itself an amalgamation of contracts, litigation, tort);
  • Administrative law (with respect to its various obligations to federal agencies and with respect to its role as a public body or the arm/agent of a public body);
  • Environmental law (as owner of property on which potentially hazardous materials are frequently utilized);
  • Insurance defense law (tort claims against the airport – slips on the escalator, falls on an icy sidewalk, an abusive passenger escorted off a plane by a law enforcement officer, etc.)
  • Collections litigation (tenants and permittees who don’t pay their bills or Minimum Annual Guarantees);
  • Civil rights law (both in the treatment of individuals and the access to business opportunities at the airport);
  • Even constitutional issues (including First Amendment law).

That being said, of course, there are certainly unique aspects to airport law:

  • Sponsor assurances from the receipt of U.S. Department of Transportation grant funds (primarily through the FAA);
  • Deed restrictions on the use and disposal of airport property (same source);
  • Limitations and requirements of rate-setting for airport users (both aeronautical and non-aeronautical, such as concessions, etc.);
  • Compliance issues with respect to FAA certification; and
  • Relationship with and obligations to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Then there are the issues that pertain to any local public body:

  • Public procurement and contracts; 
  • Public/government ethics;
  • Limitations on the use of public funds;
  • Issues pertaining to representative government, boards/commissions, parliamentary procedure, etc.;
  • And much more.

All these functions and issues can arise daily in a commercial airport (somewhat less frequently at a GA airport), and in each case, it is the airport attorney’s job to render competent legal counsel to the technical and professional staff – to enable them to do their jobs, maintain high safety/security standards, comply with all applicable legal requirements, and render excellent service to the flying public (and their governing body).

Welcome to The Airport Lawyer blog. I’m your host, Sheryl Schelin. Let’s play our game.

I am the inhouse staff attorney for the Horry County (South Carolina) Department of Airports, owner and operator of a system of commercial and general aviation airports including Myrtle Beach International, Loris, Grand Strand, and Conway-Horry County airports. Let’s get all the fine print out of the way first, shall we?

  1. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly and solely my own, and in no way represent or reflect on the views or opinions of Horry County, its Department of Airports, or any of its officials, employees, or board or commission members. (That said, I don’t intend to do much pontificating in here. I’ve created this blog mostly to publish new developments in airport law or aspects related to representing airports, though certainly I may offer an opinion or two in discussing those developments.)
  2. Also: nothing herein is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. By posting here, I am strictly attempting to offer a service to other airport attorneys and those who might be interested in airport law, or affected by its development. I am neither seeking nor will I accept duties of representation of any other individual. I’m a full-time public employee, just like your local zoning administrator or garbage collector. I am not engaged in private practice, and have no desire to be engaged in private practice in the future. So – read and enjoy, but don’t ask me to show up for your DUI hearing.
  3. Finally, under no circumstances should any content in this blog be taken as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you are advised to seek the counsel of a licensed attorney in your state.

That about covers it! Please feel free to post comments and email me directly with questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics/posts.