To date, FAA has invested some $30 million into the airport; the county some $1.5 million; and the Industrial Building Authority $5 million, according to Swafford.
Putting the project together
Because of the topography of northern Georgia, the county literally had to move mountains to create a level airfield. Comments Swafford, “We basically took a ridge line and for the most part cut the tops of the mountains off and filled them into the valley, and created a runway. We moved over four million cubic yards of dirt; but we have some natural benefits from that — our runway elevation is nearly 1,300 feet, so we are way up high. Which makes our airport very, very visible from the air, and makes our approaches extremely clean.
“The pilots have all given us great feedback on our approaches. They say you can actually see the runway nearly from the Alabama line. We’re about 300 feet higher than Hartsfield.”
One of the key hurdles prior to the opening of the facility, relates Swafford, was getting the right name. Exhibiting at trade shows hosted by the National Business Aviation Association, officials solicited feedback from pilots.
Explains Swafford, “We opened the airport under the name Paulding County Airport and changed it soon after to Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, and have seen a much more positive response under the new name. One thing we found is that there’s a Paulding County, Ohio, so a lot of folks who were looking for us were looking in the wrong part of the country.
“The new name helped with geographic recognition; but it also is a more appropriate name for the scale of the airport. This is a 5,500-foot concrete runway with a 9,000-pound weight design; we can accommodate anything up to a 737. The new name is more reflective of the class of the airport.
“A lot of folks are excited that we’re outside the Class B airspace, so you can get in and out without having to get tied up with Atlanta Hartsfield. It seems to be a huge deal for us.”
In a unique arrangement, the county is the official airport sponsor, but the airport property is owned and operated by an airport authority in what Swafford terms a “joint venture”. The Industrial Building Authority, which plans to develop some 110 acres of adjacent property, is another partner, having also provided the match funding for the terminal building.
Regarding the target market for the new airport, Swafford says it’s “the growth of Atlanta. We’re expected to add two million people in Atlanta in the next 15 years.
“We have quite a few companies in this region that deal with aerospace. Lockheed-Martin is only about 15 miles down the road. We have Aerospace Fabricators of Georgia and Top Flight Aerostructures here in the county. We have some great resources in terms of raw materials. We have a company in the county called Rare Metals, which is one of the top suppliers of titanium and other materials that are used in airplane parts fabrication.
“We have Georgia Tech right the road; they’re now the fourth largest aerospace program in the entire country. We’ve got Gulfstream in Georgia; a couple of engine manufacturers in Georgia.”
Private fbo services
The new airport at press time was in the process of negotiating a lease for a private fixed base operator to provide services. Swafford says the county considered getting into the services business itself, but decided a private operator would provide a higher level of service. “Very few cities do it well,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of those conversations over the past two years. We felt like the service would be at a higher standard if it were provided by a private company that is profit-driven, as opposed to a government entity that is subject to fluctuating budgets.”
An initial request for proposals (RFP) for an FBO required the operator to construct a terminal building, which proved an obstacle to generating interest. Explains Swafford, “That would have required a couple of million dollars in investment from the private sector, in an airport that has no track record.
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