Oct. 04--Paulding County, northwest of Atlanta, and a New York City venture capital firm say they are on the verge of cracking a monopoly in metro Atlanta by establishing rival airline service outside Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Propeller Investments, whose bid to bring airline flights to Gwinnett County failed last year, says it is now in partnership with the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to do the same there, as well as to create a cluster of aviation-related businesses in the area.
In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Propeller chief executive Brett Smith said he hopes to announce airline service to Paulding by year's end after the airport receives necessary federal approvals. He said his firm is talking with carriers with jets in the size range of the Boeing 737. He declined to name the carriers.
"It's going to be limited to start," Smith said.
The operation he envisions -- one airline with a few flights a week, at least initially -- wouldn't constitute a true alternative to Hartsfield-Jackson, which has more than 1,000 takeoffs every day. Paulding's airport, west of the county seat of Dallas and 38 miles from downtown Atlanta, is tiny and remote, with no control tower.
Still, it 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.
Public opposition to big jets sank Propeller's bid to run Gwinnett's Briscoe Field last year, and the same concern has shot down other "second airport" initiatives.
In contrast to the Gwinnett effort, which required a key vote from the county commission, Smith said his company already has signed contracts with the Paulding airport's governing authority.
Blake Swafford, director of the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, said the airport has also already submitted applications to the Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration seeking approvals to allow commercial airline service.
Swafford said there are no public hearings or noise mitigation moves necessary because of the small scale of airline service planned, and he said the airport underwent an environmental study when it was built in 2008.
The FAA said Thursday it is reviewing the request for a certificate to conduct airline operations, and will also determine if there are any environmental consequences of the upgrade. The agency expects a decision in the next 70 days.
Other details could be daunting: The airport would need security infrastructure and staffing, including $250,000 worth of perimeter fencing for which it plans to seek an FAA grant.
Smith said Propeller also would spend several million dollars, including building a temporary control tower until the FAA put up a permament one. Baggage handling infrastructure would also be needed.
Work on added runway shoulders and a taxiway extension is already underway, funded by a mix of federal grants or airport authority bonds that could be reimbursed by future grants. That work is expected to be done by year's end.
Still, opposition could arise.
"If there are justifiable concerns, then we try to adjust what those concerns are," Swafford said.
"I'm sure that somebody might be annoyed... There's probably a handful of folks that may have some issues," said Paulding County Board of Commissioners chairman David Austin, who is also on the airport authority. But he doesn't think it will delay plans. "Our biggest approval comes from the FAA," Austin said.
Delta Air Lines, Hartsfield-Jackson's biggest tenant, has historically opposed a second airport in metro Atlanta. But Austin said because the Paulding airline service would be so limited, "I couldn't see them spending a lot of time worrying about our tiny little airport."
The county-owned airport sports a small but handsome terminal and a 6,000-foot runway -- long enough for anything up to a mid-size airliner, though not for widebodies. Currently the airport handles about two dozen flights a day by small planes, and it has a flight school.
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