WINDER & KENNESAW, GA — As the Atlanta metro spreads out in all directions, these two Georgia communities have seen concurrent growth at their general aviation airports. Yet, Winder-Barrow Airport in Winder and Cobb County Airport at McCollum Field in Kennesaw are on different growth paths — the former boasts compatible land usage and increased activity which, in time, could lead to regional jet service; the latter has seen an uptick in based jet aircraft, is nearing full capacity, and is focused on serving its GA niche. Officials at both airports see their proximity to the nation’s busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, as playing in their favor. Says Cobb County Airport director Karl Von Hagel, “We’re close enough to the congestion, but away from it.”
Winder-Barrow Airport is located some 50 miles northeast of downtown Atlanta, while Cobb County Airport is some 25 miles to the northwest of the sprawling city.
According to Tim Whitman, airport director, Winder-Barrow Airport (WDR) started in the mid to late 1940s as a public works project. The “tremendous growth” that the airport has experienced began in the late ‘80s, he says.
Currently, the airport is in the midst of revising its master plan. “We’re evaluating everything from facilities to business practices to forecasting and looking at the big picture,” says Whitman.
The Barrow County Airport Authority is comprised of seven board members, all representing one of the districts in the county and one at-large member. The authority members are appointed by the county commissioner of each district.
In 1999, relates Whitman, the airport had “a good facility that needed some help. [The airport board] realized that the airport was an asset that was being under-utilized. The perception was there that it was just a burden for the taxpayers and a playground for the playboys.”
In need of professional guidance, the airport authority hired American Airports Corporation, an airport development/management company. Whitman, who was American Airports’ regional director at the time, was responsible for Winder-Barrow Airport.
“By getting professional airport management in here, American Airports was able to turn that perception around and show people that the airport is a business tool and an asset to the community,” Whitman explains.
The five-year management contract with American Airports ended in 2003. Whitman was subsequently hired as a consultant and brought on as airport director six months later.
Regional Growth Influences Airport Activity
“The airport is really growing in corporate and general aviation traffic,” says Whitman. He explains that the airport is in what he calls a bio-technical corridor between Athens and Atlanta. “We’re right in the middle of it. So we’re seeing a large growth of high-end technical companies looking at this area.”
To meet projected demand, the airport authority is exploring expansion. According to Whitman, Winder-Barrow’s master plan shows operations will continue to increase. “We’re seeing more and more activity from larger corporate aircraft, such as Hawkers, G-IIIs, G-IVs, Citation 10s, things of that nature. So one of the things depicted on the airport layout plan and also on our master plan we’re developing is the extension of the runway to 7,000 feet.”
Whitman says the airport is considering applying for the contract tower program. The airport sees some 70,000 operations annually, which is forecast to increase. Winder-Barrow’s capital improvement budget is approximately $25 million for five years. “We’ve been very aggressive and fortunate in getting grants,” says Whitman. A recent upgrade involved redoing all the signage and lighting on the airfield, which is now in compliance with FAR Part 139. The airport is in the process of a taxiway extension for the primary runway. In 2006 Whitman says plans call to begin design on a new taxiway and runway overlays; he’s “hopeful” that the runway extension will follow within a couple of years.
The airport is a strategic piece in the fast-growing county's economic development plan.
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