Middle Georgia Regional Airport has a huge impact on the local economy, and theres potential for it to grow dramatically -- but that will require help from local officials and a renewed emphasis on technical education.
Thats what airport and economic development leaders told members of Macon City Council during an airport tour this week.
We all agree we need to maximize our use of a wonderful asset for all of central Georgia by making sure we equip the airport to attract the kinds of jobs we so desperately need, said Councilman Rick Hutto via e-mail. He said all five members of the City Councils Public Properties Committee, of which he is chairman, went on the tour along with Council President James Timley and council members Henry Gibson and Beverly K. Olson.
A 2011 study by CDM Smith for the state Department of Transportation found that Middle Georgia Regional Airport is directly or indirectly responsible for 1,925 local jobs, with a total economic impact of $198.5 million a year. Thats fourth-largest in the state, behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Savannah-Hilton Head International and Augusta Regional at Bush Field.
Middle Georgia Regional Airport is fourth in total output, third in total jobs and salaries, and we have very, very little -- virtually no -- commercial air service, airport manager Doug Faour said.
Those numbers clearly show the airports strength is in skilled maintenance operations, he said.
Weve got three major companies. Most airports would kill just to have one, Faour said.
Bombardier, Boeing and Timco provide about 1,000 jobs at the airport itself and have numerous suppliers throughout the state, said Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission.
Boeing alone buys from about 100 Georgia firms, he said.
A good majority of those are located here in Middle Georgia, Topping said.
But to attract similar businesses, more sites near the airport need to be made ready with access and infrastructure, he said. Theres only one parcel now ready for development, even as officials are talking with four possible tenants, Topping said.
Three of those need direct access, one of them does not, he said. I have presented the same site to those three prospects.
Hutto said council members assured Topping they would do everything in our power to prepare more development sites.
Along with that, there should be a concerted effort to steer local youths into technical training for those well-paying aerospace jobs, Topping said.
Faour said some council members asked about extending the 6,500-foot main runway to 8,000 feet, big enough for jumbo cargo planes. A master plan for the next five years, now under development, will provide data to help convince federal officials to fund that multimillion-dollar project, he said.
We should have funded that prior to funding the Second Street Corridor, Timley argues.
He said Mayor Robert Reicherts plan to redevelop Second Street as a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, slated to get $8 million in sales tax money, wont yield financial benefits as quickly as airport expansion would.
FedEx began air cargo operations at the airport in early 2012, and the city budget projects a dramatic increase in air cargo over the next year due to the expansion of Savannahs seaport.
In the coming year about $1.1 million in state and federal money is expected to be used for the master plan, runway improvements and other facility work, according to the city budget.
A new round of bids for federally-subsidized passenger service will be in Jan. 31. Faour said hes optimistic that will result in flights to more than just Atlanta.
If it pans out in our favor, we believe that Macon can grow its commercial air service back to some pretty decent numbers, like we were in the early 2000s, he said.
In 2012 only three passengers a day, on average, used GeorgiaSkies flights to or from Atlanta. Unless that rises to at least 10 per day, Macon could lose the subsidy, which has ranged as high as $1.95 million per year and is paid to an airline providing passenger service from the airport.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.