David Gantt, a member of the governing board of the Asheville Regional Airport, returned to Asheville on Tuesday from a five-day trip to an airport industry conference in Hawaii and defended the trip as a valuable learning experience.
The conference was held at a Maui resort. The Asheville airport board initially planned to send four of its members there at a cost of more than $17,000, though one board member announced a last-minute decision not to attend. The spending has stirred outrage among some residents upset at the board’s spending during economic tough times and spurred more questions about the airport board’s budget and policies.
Gantt was greeted upon his return by a group of about 15 protesters, who questioned the spending and demanded accountability. Gantt addressed the group with a statement, noting the value of the conference, then answered questions from the media.
“You want this airport to succeed. We want this airport to succeed, and the conference I went to was a good one,” Gantt said. “I learned a lot.”
“I first of all would like you to understand that we get it. Any time there’s public money spent, you have a right to know how it’s spent and I have an obligation as a public official or a board member to explain where it goes, and I’m going to do that.”
Gantt said he talked to officials about airport security, include body scanners and the potential damage bird strikes can do to aircraft. “I think with what we’ve learned from talking to the TSA people, from talking to the FAA people, that we can make this a safer airport, and it’s very important for us to do that.”
Gantt said he talked with FAA officials and other conference-goers about sources of airport funding, noting that the Asheville airport last year received $7.5 million in stimulus cash. And he said the a contact at the conference resulted in the addition of a new flight out of the Asheville airport.
“We will have an announcement soon, due to a contact we made at this convention, that we will have a new hub we will be flying to and I’m not going to steal the thunder, but that will be coming.”
Gantt said issues surrounding the airport’s budget and policies regarding trips will be discussed at the next board meeting in February.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor