Contour Airlines is an air carrier that wants to set up operations at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport. I hope they succeed. When I chaired the properties committee for the Macon City Council, I came away convinced that the airport is an untapped regional treasure that we should be using as an economic engine.
The problem with the airport is that it needs a runway extended. Given its current length of 6,501 feet, it is the functional equivalent of Chicago’s Midway Airport that has a runway of 6,522 feet. That allows small jets in, but restricts the size and power of those jets. Newer 737-900 planes, 757 planes, and wide body jets may be able to get in, but only without being fully fueled or loaded.
Expanding the airport runway would allow increased cargo capacity. With the port expansion in Savannah, the increased infrastructure development in the area, and the adjacent rail lines, the airport is in the perfect location for a lot of major cargo carriers, some of which have been very open about wanting to get out of Hartsfield because of congestion.
But we never, ever seem to get our act together. Likewise, we never seem to get our act together on commercial aviation. I agree, with Atlanta an hour away, there has never been much of a point. But then, there really has never been much of a point for a commercial air carrier in Macon flying up to Atlanta. The idea has always struck me as ridiculous, but every air carrier into the airport has largely been about hopping into Atlanta to catch other flights. The baggage issues, etc. have complicated that.
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Contour is thinking differently. The No. 2 destination for people in Middle Georgia is Washington, D.C. Much of our military personnel in Middle Georgia fly back and forth. Contour is an approved carrier for the military, which means people from Robins Air Force Base could literally drive up the street and hop on a plane instead of driving more than an hour to Atlanta to get on a plane.
On previous occasions, the air carriers also spent more time canceling flights and driving passengers up to Atlanta on buses than actually taking off. As a longtime frequent flier, I used to take the ASA flight. More often than not, the flight would be canceled, sometimes after we had already boarded the plane, and a bus would pull up to take us to Atlanta. On more than one occasion I would miss my connecting flight.
The other carriers were no better and those that seemed more credible, like Silver, which had credible planes and staff, had schedule problems. Flying back from Washington, I’d have to spend the entire day in the Atlanta airport waiting for a flight to Macon when I could easily hop on Groome or get in my car to drive home quicker. The flight schedule for Silver never actually worked well for anyone who had business travel.
Most of my flights over the years have been to Washington, D.C. If Contour is able to fly into Washington-Reagan National Airport, or really even to Dulles, it would be vastly more convenient for me to drive 15 minutes to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport than drive an hour to Atlanta, which increasingly is more than an hour because of the never-ending post-Sherman invasion rebuilding of Atlanta area infrastructure.
I hope they are able to pull this off and I suspect by not flying to Atlanta, they may see more success than other recent attempts.
Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.