Opinion Columns & Blogs

Our would-be future is on a glide path in front of us

Last week I had to head down to the Middle Georgia Regional Airport and got to see our would-be future. There on display were the blueprints for a future airport expansion.

That vision includes taking over parking space to add hangars. It includes a runway extension that would require a bridge over Avondale Mill Road. Adding that runway extension, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, would increase the flight capacity out of Middle Georgia. While there, a Sun Coast 737 plane was ferrying people to the Gulf Coast.

It was good to see a commercial airliner parked at the terminal. Another will be coming soon to ferry passengers from Macon to Washington, D.C. The airplane headed to the Gulf Coast, a newer 737, single aisle Boeing jet, is about the largest our airport can handle with its present runway. Larger planes can fly in, but getting back out is a problem.

I thought about this problem again as I read about what is happening in Wilmington, Ohio. Back at the turn of this century, Wilmington was a hub for Airborne Express, then for DHL after it bought the former. But in 2008, DHL shuttered its facility in Wilmington and the local economy was devastated.

Devin Leonard, writing in Bloomberg Businessweek, noted that in 2009 “the city was featured on a 60 Minutes segment as a symbol of recessionary America. ‘When President Obama spoke of “the winter of our hardship” in his inaugural address, no one in America understood that better than the folks we met in Wilmington, Ohio,’ correspondent Scott Pelley said.”

But in September 2015, locals noticed an uptick in airplanes flying out of Wilmington. The planes were hauling cargo wrapped in black plastic to disguise their identity. Turns out Amazon had settled on using Wilmington to test its own shipment models outside of reliance on UPS, FedEx, or the United States Postal Service.

Amazon’s distribution system continues to amaze me. There have been several occasions when I ordered something on a Saturday and a postal worker pulled up on Sunday, less than 24 hours later, with the package even though delivery had been scheduled for Monday. Its systems and efficiencies are impressive.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, says he does not intend to compete with current shippers. But he does intend to boost additional capacity beyond what the additional shippers can cover. At Christmas, Amazon sees huge backlogs and is often subjected to bad press as kids’ presents do not arrive on time. They hope to solve this.

Part of their solution is regional airports. That is not to say that if we build it, they will come. But it is worth noting that UPS and FedEx are now stretching out from Atlanta with hubs in Albany and Tallahassee. It is worth noting that Middle Georgia has moved into a distribution hub model with warehousing and fulfillment centers rising in Industrial Authority fields from Twiggs County to Peach County.

We have railroads. We are about to have even more interstate than some want. What we do not have is an aviation infrastructure. Cargo must be shipped elsewhere and transported to Middle Georgia by truck or train. That has kept the area from being attractive to some major corporations. We may have more water than Atlanta, but we do not have a runway on which they can land their planes.

Bibb County may own the Middle Georgia Regional Airport, but its expansion would be an economic win for every surrounding county and delaying that expansion makes less and less sense each day.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.