Houston Airport Seeks Funding Increase

It's a quiet afternoon at the Perry-Houston County Airport.

A local pilot rests beneath the shade of a gazebo behind the airport terminal.

In the heat of a maintenance hangar, workers attend to the naked engine of a Cessna 172.

It's the kind of quiet, airport officials might tell you, that comes before the flurry of expansion.

"This airport is really starting to grow now," airport manager Terry McConnell said Monday during an interview in his office. "So we need every nickel, dime and penny we can get our hands on to put into the airport."

Positioning the airport, which straddles the Houston-Peach county line northwest of Perry, to take advantage of this growth and attract large companies to the area means several needs must be satisfied, including the construction of a new taxiway, runway lighting system and hangar space, airport officials say.

As improvements can't be made without money, the Perry-Houston County Airport Authority has submitted an "aggressive" budget request to Houston County and the city of Perry that seeks a substantial increase in funding from previous years.

"As we see it, (the airport) really is a very convenient location, so it can be a sort of engine for economic development in the county," said Art MacDonald, chairman of the authority.

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 - an almost 40 percent increase from the governments' current contributions. Another change from last year's budget request: The authority wants the city and county to each contribute $47,500 to help fund the taxiway and lighting improvements, and prepare the grounds for construction of the additional hangars.

Rental fees are the primary source of the airport's self-generated income, so adding hangar space is a priority, MacDonald said. By making room for 28 more planes, the airport's yearly rental income would jump from $54,000 to $93,000, MacDonald said.

Local money would pay only for a small portion of the cost of these projects, which would total

more than $1 million, MacDonald said. The authority also hopes to obtain several hundred thousand dollars in funding for the improvements from federal and state government grants.

"What we're doing is leveraging that relatively small amount of local money into a huge asset," MacDonald said.

Central Georgia Aviation runs many of the airport's day-to-day operations and is contracted to oversee maintenance, hangar management, fuel sales, flight training and plane rentals.

Its president, Scott Winks, said as

As the airport gains the ability to offer a greater number of services it will attract business and sales to Houston County. During the long term, that will mean adding a computer-guided approach system for landing aircraft and extending the length of the runway so it can accommodate corporate jets.

Such improvements are crucial, Winks said, for the airport to serve as a gateway for businesses transporting products and people into the area.

"Most of the time, they're not going to be driving down here in a car, they're going to be flying in," he said.