DALTON, Ga. -- Dalton Municipal Airport has started construction on 20 new hangars, which are being funded by a grant of more than $400,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation, city officials said.
"By the end of this year, we're going to have a first-class airport," Dalton Mayor Ray Elrod said.
The airport already has 42 hangars, and eight of those need to be replaced, said Harvey Halman, airport manager. Construction began in September on the new hangars, and they are expected to be completed in three to four months.
Mr. Halman described each hangar as "a garage, basically, for single-engine planes."
The city's airport received the state grant because of Dalton's contribution to Georgia's economy, said Dr. Mohamed Arafa, GDOT's communications officer for Northwest Georgia. "We always have more needs than funds. ... We have more will than wallet. (But) it's an important facility."
As Dalton's carpet industry slows down, Mr. Halman said it's important to attract new industry with a state-of-the-art airport that has plenty of hangar space.
"The profit of the carpet mills is kind of leaving town," Mr. Halman said. "We need to find some way to bring new business here and keep the money in the community."
Expanding the airport will encourage new industry to come to Dalton, Mr. Halman said.
"We're looking at mostly corporate and private business," he said. "We expect a lot of individuals to have their own airplanes."
A well-equipped local airport makes business travel more convenient, said Bill Simpson, owner of Tunnel Hill, Ga.-based Simpson Machinery. He flies out-of-state about once a week on his own plane in part to avoid the hassle of trying to book commercial flights around his business meetings.
"That's the advantage -- being able to come and go as the situation dictates," he said.
Mr. Simpson pointed out that the airport in recent years has had major renovations, including a runway expansion and a new navigation system to help planes land.
"We have a modern runway and instrument landing system, but we needed hangars," he said, "and now we're going to get them."
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The City Council set aside plans to get federal funding for the project, but a new proposal could surface in coming weeks.
A new terminal building, an extended runway, new runway lights and other improvements at the Clay County Regional Airport will give the region a much-needed economic boost.
The authority has asked both Perry and Houston County to help it pay off loans needed for hangar construction by increasing the airport's operating budget from $49,000 to $68,000.
The increase could become a reality with the infusion of a $125,000 state grant approved by the state Transportation Commission on Thursday.