Sky’s the Limit: Tri-County Airport Extends Runway, Economic Benefits
March 17, 2015
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  • HOLMES COUNTY — A considerable opportunity for economic development has officially landed at Tri-County Airport.

    “That is plum beautiful,” said Ed Bowers, airport manager.

    Looking out over a clay field with heaps of limestone waiting to go down in coming weeks, Bowers is excited to see efforts underway to extend the airport’s existing 4,000-foot runway to 5,400 feet.

    “What we’re attempting to do here is get a straight in approach,” Bowers said. The idea behind adding another 1,400 feet of runway is to allow larger aircraft, such as a Learjet, Cessna Citation or commercial passenger plane to get in and out of Tri-County.

    Tri-CountyAirport is publicly owned by three adjoining counties and governed by a 15-member Tri-County Airport Authority board made up of five representatives from Holmes, Washington and Jackson Counties.

    To date, the 300-acre airport has largely been supported by private aircraft owners and aviation companies serving local agriculture with small single-engine planes operating on visual flight rules.

    “When there is spraying or fertilizing to be done, we come in with the planes and do it out of here,” said Curtis Snell, a pilot on the weekends for Croom Aviation out of Donalsonville, Ga.

    On Saturday, Croom Aviation had a couple of Ayres Thrush crop dusters running all day to deliver 2,000 pounds of dry fertilizer in each run to cover areas of planted pine trees.

    Much of what’s disbursed by crop dusters is on a seasonal schedule. Owner Kent Croom said his company will spray pesticides on cotton and peanuts, two of the area’s major cash crops, in the summer.

    Croom pays a daily fee to Tri-County to use the airport for trucks to haul in fertilizer to be loaded into his aircraft and spread over target locations.

    In addition to this type of business, the airport is also a hangout for aviation enthusiasts. A local Experimental Aviation Association chapter holds regular meetings and gatherings at Tri-County.

    The vision for all of what could go on at the 75-year-old airport is growing by the day. Thanks to a $470,444 airport improvement grant from the Federal Aviation Administration, Tri-County has a new taxiway.

    The airport also added new hangars over the past few years. It has a total of 29 tee and box hangars for smaller aircraft and three commercial hangars for a total of 32 hangars.

    “We rent all these hangars, and it gives us an income,” Bowers said. “No one is taxed.”

    Tri-County Airport Authority hopes the next phase of growth underway at the airport will augment the overall transportation capabilities in the region to stimulate economic development. Opportunities for growth and rejuvenation of infrastructure in rural communities weighs heavily on the acquisition of federal grant funding.

    Recent examples include  the upcoming replacement of the water system in the town of Esto covered by Northwest Florida Water Management District and USDA rural development funds and bridge replacement on dirt roads in Holmes and Washington Counties by FDOT.

    Commissions over economic development in Holmes and Washington Counties are brainstorming ways to utilize transportation assets found in Interstate 10 and State Roads 77 and 79, as well as the CSX railway system, in mapping the addition of industrial and commercial zones to the region.

    Tri-CountyAirportis another site of great potential in cultivating economic expansion.

    “We’re looking for industry to come and bring jobs to the area,” Bowers said.

    The airport has additional land beside the new runway extension slated to become an open industrial space with a taxiway through it. It could become the future site of a warehouse or factory.

    Airport Authority board member Chuck Aronhalt said a location in close proximity to the airport is beneficial for business, due to communication and shipping capabilities available.

    In ten years, Bowers envisions the airport functioning as its own miniature city with a busy runway and bustling warehouses.

    “We’re at the beginning of this change,” he said. “I’m just so glad I’m able to see it.”