Airport runway expansion could lure new industry, launch development

Work set to begin on lengthening runway, building new corporate terminal and hangars at Middle Georgia Regional Airport


Liz Fabian

Doug Faour, center left, gestures toward the planned runway extension during a recent tour of the Middle Georgia Regional Airport with the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission.

Local leaders have been working toward expanding the runway at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport for more than 40 years, but a slew of projects is about to take off with even more on the horizon.

Within the next few months, a groundbreaking ceremony is expected to launch the 600-foot extension to bring the main runway from 6,500 feet to 7,100 feet.

Plans are also in the works for a new air traffic control tower as Macon is one of 30 cities approved by the FAA for new construction, said interim Airport Manager Doug Faour.

Tuesday, the county commission approved spending nearly a quarter-million dollars for a conceptual design and environmental site study for a new corporate terminal building at the regional airport.

The county’s plans call for building a two-story, 15,000-square-foot building for offices, conference rooms, spaces for gatherings and a restaurant. The cost of construction is estimated to be $6-9 million, according to the contract, but no funding source was indicated.

For $224,000 out of the county’s general fund, Passero Associates will draw up plans and 3D modeling for the new terminal for the fixed-base operators. The so-called FBOs consist of businesses granted permission to operate on airport grounds to provide necessary services such as fueling, maintenance or other aviation-related services.

The county also wants Passero to study the feasibility of relocating existing corporate hangars to another location on the more than 1,000 acre-property.

Last November, the county initially hired Passero for a period of five years as a consulting architect and engineer of record to lead the renovation and expansion efforts at the airport, which included conducting a competitive bid process to select a construction company to rehabilitate the airport’s Taxiway C.

Tuesday, the Macon-Bibb County Commission approved spending over $61,000 from the general fund as matching funds for over $1 million from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act needed for the taxiway project.

Reeves Construction Company was awarded the contract with Passero receiving nearly $300,000 for contract supervision services.

Commissioners also approved hiring Precision 2000 to build a retaining wall in the first phase of the runway extension that will be funded by nearly $2.2 million from the federal infrastructure funds and other grants. An additional $168,000 in grant funds will pay for Passero’s supervision of that contract.

Lengthening the runway is the first step in giving the airport the capacity it needs to land larger passenger aircraft and loaded cargo planes.

The Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission recently toured MHIRJ and other aerospace businesses at Middle Georgia Regional Airport. (Liz Fabian)

Last week as the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission took a tour of airport properties, Faour said the airport can “accommodate pretty much everything” already, but it depends on how many passengers or cargo weight is on those planes.

“The ultimate goal is to get to 8,000 feet,” Faour said of the preferred runway length.

Plans for the initial expansion include building that retaining wall along Avondale Mill Road. In a future phase of construction, that wall would provide support for an eventual bridge to lengthen the runway over the road, like the way Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson Airport’s newest runway crosses Interstate 285.

Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority Executive Director Stephen Adams said the FAA requires long-range planning, so preparing for the next step makes good fiscal sense.

“The intent here was to try to be good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars to meet the immediate need,” Adams told The Macon Newsroom. “Crossing over the roadway is a pretty significant expense.”

Dean Baldwin Painting is the newest aerospace business to open at Middle Georgia Regional Airport, but county leaders are planning to lure more as they expand the runway and build a new corporate terminal. (Liz Fabian)

The anticipated runway extension enhanced the sales pitch to company executives from Dean Baldwin Painting, the latest business to locate at the airport with a $20 million investment, Adams said.

In addition, Bright Farms, a Cox Enterprises Company, recently announced plans to purchase nearly 193 acres directly across from the airport to build 1.8 million square feet of commercial greenhouses to grow and ship lettuce and other leafy greens.

Now that airport construction projects are getting underway, Adams has scheduled monthly meetings for project updates as the air transportation hub is a critical component of luring new industry.

“The reason we’ve gotten aggressive with recruiting aerospace companies is because they’re paying great wages. They have some great opportunities out there,” Adams said.

Aerospace companies and other businesses settling at the airport help fund operations. Rent from tenants on the property goes into an airport fund held in trust by the industrial authority.

“It takes a lot to run an airport. It’s really a tough job, but we don’t want the taxpayers to bear that burden,” said Faour, who is the lead candidate to fill the county’s new airport director position that was approved earlier this year.

The runway at Middle Georgia Regional Airport is currently 6,500 feet long, but will be lengthened to 7,100 feet in the coming months.

As P&Z commissioners and staff stood at the end of the current 6500-foot runway, Faour mentioned that the long-range vision for the airport includes a new passenger terminal that would likely be built on the south side with a new entrance off Avondale Mill Road.

The current terminal built in 1959 is pushed to capacity at times when casino charter flights leave from south Bibb County, Faour said.

He sees great opportunity for expansion since airlines find it difficult to grow in Atlanta because of Delta’s overwhelming presence and gate control.

Luring cargo carriers back to Macon is also part of the plan. Fed Ex used to fly out of Macon until about 10 years ago, Faour said.

The new corporate terminal will be an important initial step to boosting the airport’s reputation as it will offer the first impression of the community to company executives and other high-profile visitors flying in on private jets.

“The modernization of the terminal is big on the mayor’s mind to have an attractive facility when people come to the community,” Faour said.

In 2020, Macon-Bibb County approved work on the airport’s secondary runway, which will be used as the main landing strip during the extension project.

Faour expected a groundbreaking ceremony as soon as next month or after the first of the year.

Middle Georgia Regional Airport interim director Doug Faour briefs the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission on runway expansion plans during a recent visit to the airport in south Bibb County. (Liz Fabian)

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.