Airport's economic impact strong despite economy

August 10, 2012
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  • By Matt Shinall

    A recent article from Georgia Public Broadcasting News explored impacts of the economic recession on community airports finding that most public-use facilities have been hit hard by the recession, meanwhile, the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport is thriving.

    Where most have faltered in the past four years, a study from the Georgia Department of Transportation shows that the Cartersville airport contributed more than $50 million to the local economy in 2010. Supporting 436 jobs with a payroll of$15.7 million, the airport accounted for $37 million in operational output and $2.3 million in visitor output combined with an economic impact multiplier of $13.3 million to create a total economic output of $52.7 million.

    To compare the Cartersville airport against others in the state, the economic impact of $52.7 million outpaces two of Georgia’s nine commercial-service airports and is fourth in economic impact outside the perimeter — behind Fulton County-Brown Field, Cobb County-McCullom Field and Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field.

    Chairman of the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport Authority Bob Hite places the overall success of the airport on the shoulders of Phoenix Air.

    “I don’t think there’s any doubt, Phoenix is the driving force because they are a worldwide operation. They’ve got big airplanes, expensive airplanes that take a lot of fuel, a lot of maintenance,” Hite said.

    A testament to the impact made primarily by Phoenix Air is the comparison to nearby Russell Regional in Rome with a total economic impact of $7.5 million.

    Phoenix Air is touted in the study as a primary contributor to the airport’s economic impact citing private and government contracts for services ranging from air-ambulance and high-priority air cargo transport to electronic warfare and weapons-training defense.

    Airport Operations Manager Fritz Dent gives credit to the air-ambulance service for continued success during the past four years.

    “Our air-ambulance business is something that has kept us going through the recession, we also have government contracts that have helped us greatly, but the air-ambulance business is something you can’t cut back. So it has helped us greatly along the way,” Dent said.

    The study also names Southland Aviation and RMZ Aviation for their impact. Both are maintenance,repair and fabrication shops housed at the Cartersville airport.

    “Southland has got a fantastic capability, they’ve probably got some capabilities that very few people east of the Mississippi can do. For instance, right now, they’re putting the leading edge on an airplane that corrosion had gotten to. Average run-of-the-mill shops don’t have the expertise or equipment to fabricate the leading edge of an airplane,” Hite said. “RMZ, he is into composites. More and more airplanes now are using composite parts and there are not a lot of people that have the expertise to repair them. I was in there the other day and he had a part for a plane out of Oklahoma, somebody shipped a part in for repair.

    “Those two facilities have a lot of expertise and I really think we’re going to see RMZ grow.”

    Corporate travel also was cited in the study, specifically naming Komatsu and Goshen Corporation for their use of the airport to transport goods, people and equipment. Hite added Walmart to that list as regular corporate customers coming through the Cartersville airport as he spoke to the impact of airports on economic development.

    “We talk about what brings plants — libraries, schools, culture, but an airport has more to do with locating business than anything else. Anheuser-Busch would never have put a brewery here if we did not have an airport that would accommodate their jets,” Hite said. “People don’t realize just how important an airport really is.”

    Where other publicly-owned airports are dealing with economic constraints, the Cartersville airport’s only limit is space. Hemmed in on every side, the airport is unable to grow as needed. Under heavy regulation, airports must undergo extensive planning before expansion can take place and the physical limitations of the Cartersville airport’s physical location adds to the challenges of Federal Aviation Administration compliance.

    After adding 30 new hangars for general aviation aircraft just two years ago, the waiting list for hangar space is now between 75 and 100 customers long.

    Date: July 18, 2012