Macon-Bibb asks judge to rule that airport improvements aren’t required

awomack@macon.comJune 6, 2014 

Macon-Bibb County lawyers have asked a judge to rule that the Macon Downtown Airport isn’t required to have certain improvements and doesn’t operate negligently without them.

In 2012, a million-dollar jet owned by Dewberry Air hydroplaned and skidded down the runway there, crossed Ocmulgee East Boulevard and crashed into trees. The plane was insured by Old Republic Insurance Co.

The company filed a lawsuit in 2013 accusing the city of negligence and claiming the airport runway was about 200 feet shorter than advertised.

The lawsuit was later dismissed, but John Hoff, a lawyer representing Macon-Bibb County, said the insurance company has said it plans to refile the suit in Fulton County.

By filing a request for declaratory judgment Wednesday, Macon-Bibb County is trying to pre-empt the re-filing and have a local judge decide whether Macon-Bibb County is obligated to perform runway grading improvements and install a runway safety overrun area, as the insurance company has contended.

“I want to show that there is an absence of any duty requiring that anything other, better or different be done,” said Hoff, a Chicago attorney and retired Air Force colonel who specializes in aviation cases. “The Macon Airport is a safe airport. It met all the requirements and criteria either by statute or by contract.”

The airport improvements are discretionary, he said.

Attempts to reach an attorney representing Old Republic Insurance Co. were unsuccessful Friday.

The complaint, which doesn’t seek any monetary damages, also names Dewberry Air as a defendant.

Hoff said the Macon Downtown Airport doesn’t have a Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control tower. It’s up to a pilot to determine whether it’s safe to land.

“There was no duty owed to the pilot of this airplane to groove the runways,” he said.

The pilot, who should have known about rain at the Macon Downtown Airport, could have chosen to land at the nearby Middle Georgia Regional Airport, which has a grooved runway, Hoff said.

He likened landing on a grooved runway to having new tires on a wet road. Landing on a runway without grooves is like driving with bald tires, Hoff said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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