The Telegraphs Feb. 10, report, Plan includes civilian flights into Robins by Mike Stucka was an attention grabber. Exactly three years ago, I pitched the same notion via The Telegraphs Your Say feature.
Heres an excerpt from the Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011, piece, Transportation planning: Areas Achilles heel.
Macon officialdom ostensibly abandoned pursuit of scheduled airline service; yet the idea recently surfaced for a high-speed rail line to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport and possibly to Warner Robins. Currently neither location is planning for connecting air passenger service. Any future BRAC -- as happened in 2005 -- will likely evaluate public transportation. Airline service disappeared shortly after the last BRAC round.
Houston County officials can smartly pick up the air passenger baton by seeking approval from Air Force officials to convert Robins Air Force Base to a joint-use facility -- civilian and military aircraft sharing use of the base runway -- perhaps using the proposed G-RAMP area for a terminal.
Two other close by Air Force installations provide examples. The Air Force and Charleston County, S.C., share the Charleston Air Force Base runway. The county operates the civilian terminal and associated taxiways. A similar arrangement exists at the Northwest Florida Regional Airport located on Eglin Air Force Base.
In 2011, then Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said he would like to talk about forming an airport authority to run the (Middle Georgia Regional Airport) facility, involving other communities so its not seen as just the citys airport. His collaboration thought was quickly carried away on an omnidirectional political wind.
Also in 2011, former Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen made a plea for the Georgia-Robins Aerospace Maintenance Partnership (G-RAMP) project stressing the need for Middle Georgia cities and counties to take on a regional outlook for the future, We got to build a bridge and think regionally. Otherwise, were going to be a one-city state (a reference to Atlanta) and well get left behind.
Then in Dec. 2012, during a meeting to discuss an update of the Middle Georgia Regional Airport Master Plan, the 21st Century Partnerships director, retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, said, Theres a lack of regional vision that prevents people outside Macon from seeing that the airport can benefit them, perpetuated by divisions between surrounding cities and counties.
Presently, Bibb County officials want to lengthen a Middle Georgia Regional Airport runway. Houston County desires a similar extension for its airport, seeking a Level III regional facility. And Houston officials want to use part of Robins as a civilian air terminal. And they are contemplating business operations similar to that envisioned by Bibb officials for its airport -- aircraft maintenance and Fed-Ex/UPS air cargo.
The base certainly needs to keep its lengthy, underused runway busy. However, one can only sit and ponder the implications, especially for the Macon airport. My thought was for an alternative to Atlantas international airport, relieving its passenger load.
The MGRA Master Plan is overdue. Will the plan take into account the need for regional cooperation? A recent Telegraph editorial observed, the threat of not having a regional approach to attracting industry and good jobs is the constant enemy.
Middle Georgia, with its prolific network of roads, rails and airports, has the potential to become the hub for a huge portion of all the goods moving within Georgia. Presently, Middle Georgia is simply a region that most transporters must transit through on their way to/from Atlantas inter-modal centers, Savannahs seaport and points in Florida.
The regions airport planning must not conflict and it should be linked to the planning for other transportation assets -- inland ports, inter-modal centers, industrial mega-sites and an expanded foreign trade zone. A pooling of resources could ensure Middle Georgia is not, as former Mayor Shaheen lamented, left behind in Atlantas dust.
Lee Ballard is a resident of Macon.