Could Atlanta finally be on the verge of getting its second commercial airport?
The idea has been broached many times during the past two decades in Atlanta, currently the largest U.S. metro area to be served by a single airport for commercial passenger airline flights.
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The latest effort to develop a second airport in metro is now underway at a small airport northwest of Atlanta. Backers aim to bring in commercial airline flights and a cluster of aviation-related businesses, though the project faces a significant hurdles — including infrastructures needs as well as opposition from Atlanta-based Delta and the city of Atlanta.
The Propeller Investments group is spearheading the effort, announcing on Friday that it has entered into an agreement with Paulding County officials to develop Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, located about 38 miles from downtown Atlanta. Under the agreement, the airport will be renamed Silver Comet Field.
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A website under the airport’s new name is now live, reading “departing soon” for what it says will be “a new airport for metro Atlanta.”
In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Propeller CEO Brett Smith tells reporter Kelly Yamanouchi he hopes to announce airline flights to the Paulding airport by the end of 2014 — though federal approval still must be secured.
Smith would not name any of the prospective carriers. The Journal-Constitution reports that leisure carrier Allegiant confirmed that it has had talks with the Paulding airport, but the airline added it had nothing to announce on the subject.
The Journal-Constitution writes “the airport and Propeller envision limited airline service: one airline with a few flights a week. Hartsfield-Jackson has more than 1,000 takeoffs every day.”
“We’re going to be a drop in the bucket compared to Hartsfield,” Paulding airport director Blake Swafford says to Yamanouchi. “So is our service going to drive down prices at Hartsfield? No, probably not … But it does provide another option for consumers that they currently don’t have.”
Yet there are challenges. Underscoring the development still needed to prepare the airport for commercial airline service, the Journal-Constitution notes that “Paulding’s airport … is tiny and remote, with no control tower.”
The airport’s new website goes on to say that “when completed, Silver Comet Field will offer a range of flight destinations” that “will offer a fun, friendly, hassle-free experience, custom tailored for the local Metro Atlanta traveler.”
The website also promises “a state-of-the-art passenger terminal that is convenient and easy to navigate.”
On that point, Smith tells the Journal-Constitution’s Yamanouchi that Propeller would spend several million dollars, including building a temporary control tower until the FAA put up a permament one as well as helping with infrastructure such as baggage handling.
Yamanouchi notes “other details could be daunting.” Among those, Yamanouchi writes that “the airport would need security infrastructure and staffing, including $250,000 worth of perimeter fencing for which (Propeller) plans to seek an FAA grant.”
Despite the list of items still needed before commercial flights could begin, the Journal-Constitution says the effort still “is the latest attempt to offer alternative airline service in the Atlanta region, one of the few in the nation with only one commercial airport.”
But development and facilities are not the airport’s only hurdle. Public opposition halted a similar effort last year in Gwinnett County — also part of suburban Atlanta — and could become an issue in Paulding.
And, as you might expect, there’s opposition from the stakeholders in Atlanta’s primary airport Hartsfield-Jackson International, which is also the busiest airport in the world.
Delta Air Lines is the top carrier there, and it quickly said it would fight any plans for Paulding.
“With the city of Atlanta and Mayor (Kasim) Reed, we will work together to oppose any investment in that facility,” Delta CEO Richard Anderson said in response, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Delta has opposed the idea of a second commercial airport in metro Atlanta any time the subject is raised.
“Hartsfield-Jackson is the best, most important airport in the Southeast, if not in the United States,” Anderson added, according to the Journal-Constitution. “And resources should not be dissipated for a facility that will take an enormous amount of cash and ultimately be an economic and community failure.”
Paulding airport director Swafford called Anderson’s reaction “arrogant” and “short-sighted” while pledging it won’t affect his airport’s plans.
Stay tuned …
Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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