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Perry airport has ambitious improvements in the works

PERRY — About a year ago, Morgan Law was waiting at the Perry-Houston County Airport for a corporate jet to land.

An executive for a company considering locating in the area was flying in for a meeting with Law and then a quick tour of the county.

“But we had some inclement weather develop, and at the last minute they had to divert to Macon to use their instrument landing system,” said Law, who is executive director of the Houston County Development Authority. “So we had to scramble to get a car up there to meet them.

“It worked out, but I’m really glad to see the upgrades at the Perry airport. The first exposure a lot of companies have to Houston County is there at the airport, so you always want a good first impression.”

Ned Sanders, chairman of the Houston County Board of Commissioners, says that’s why the county has been open to providing whatever funding it can for airport improvements.

“Part of any economic development plan is to have a good transportation system,” Sanders said. “People think about roads when you say transportation, but air travel is a real part of it businesswise. When officials from Perdue (Farms) or Frito Lay headquarters need to visit their operations here, they don’t get in the car and drive 400 or 500 miles. They take the corporate plane and fly down.

“So from a business development point of view, it is a real measure of your community to have an adequate airport with precision instrument approach capabilities. It is another tool for our economic development people to use in selling Houston County.”

Adding the instrument landing system equipment has been the focus of recent upgrades at the airport.

Airport manager Patsy Goff says equipment for a glide slope navigation system was recently added to go along with a flight path system.

“The flight path we’ve had for a while. It tells the pilot if he is left or right of the runway. The glide slope gives the altitude, so he knows if he is high or low as he approaches,” she said. “You have to have both for bad weather.”

The airport authority is scheduled to open bids on a taxiway relocation project May 11.

It has a federal grant of nearly $1.63 million through the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for the bulk of the $1.7 million estimated cost. The state is providing $42,862 of the remainder, and the local governments (Perry and Houston County) are each providing half of the remaining $42,862.

The county, Perry and the development authority also are partners in relocating a portion of Airport Road to make the instrument landing system operational and to remove a dangerous 90-degree turn near the airport entrance.

The city is acquiring rights of way from private landowners for the work, the county is supplying $720,000 in sales tax funding for the construction, and the development authority donated land in its adjacent industrial park tract to provide room for the relocation.

Sanders and Goff said the city has one more tract to acquire before moving ahead with bids for the project.

“We’re hoping to get going on both the road and taxiway relocation construction in the next six months,” Goff said.

MORE TO COME

Those projects follow about $1.5 million in improvements to the approach lights, runway, terminal and construction of a new 14-bay hangar in the past couple of years.

The next project after that, scheduled for next year, is extending the taxi lane in front of the corporate hangars about 200 yards to the terminal apron. That would make open land between the terminal and existing corporate hangers more attractive to future corporate customers to buy space to build their own hangars.

That project is budgeted at $340,000, with $255,000 coming from the state and $85,000 to be split between the county and Perry.

Goff and Art MacDonald, chairman of the Perry-Houston County Airport Authority, said the upgrades don’t just benefit corporate customers, however.

“We’re a general aviation airport. We keep making these improvements to serve our existing customers better and to attract more,” MacDonald said.

Goff said the new enclosed 14-bay hangar built last year is already full, as are all the other 28 enclosed hangar and 19 open hangar bays.

“We have about 20 names on our waiting list of people wanting to rent hangar space,” she said. “That is revenue for the county, the property taxes the plane owners are paying when they have their planes based here. If we don’t provide the services and space, they go to Macon or Hawkinsville or somewhere else, and we lose that revenue.”

That’s why another 14-bay hangar, plus a corporate hangar, are among projects on the Airport Authority’s five-year capital improvement plan, covering 2010-2014.

Other improvements on the wish list are additional exit taxiways from the runway, security fencing, expansion of the terminal apron, fuel system improvements and beginning studies and design work to extend the runway another 1,000 feet. In all, it’s more than $7 million worth of improvements.

There’s no funding for most of them right now, however.

With the improvements already made and the ones in the works, though, “we can become a regional business airport and the airport of choice for general aviation in this area,” MacDonald said. “And that could be good for everyone in the county.”

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 923-6199, extension 235.

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