Plan could stall ef­forts for 2nd metro air­port

Pro­posal for avi­a­tion academy damp­ens talk of com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By Kelly Ya­manouchi kya­manouchi@ajc.com

Gov. Nathan Deal un­veiled plans on Fri­day for a $35 mil­lion avi­a­tion academy to train air­craft me­chan­ics at the Pauld­ing County air­port, a plan that could ef­fec­tively block ef­forts to com­mer­cial­ize a sec­ond air­port in metro At­lanta.

Deal de­scended in a state pa­trol he­li­copter on Fri­day morn­ing and landed at the tiny air­port to an­nounce the 60,000 square foot Chat­ta­hoochee Tech­ni­cal Col­lege air­craft main­te­nance train­ing

fa­cil­ity.

Cit­ing con­cerns about mix­ing air­line ser­vice with a train­ing fa­cil­ity for air­craft me­chan­ics, Deal said the plan would re­quire the air­port to re­main a gen­eral avi­a­tion air­port — which would scrap the prospect of com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“I think the re­quire­ment of safety as it re­lates to a train­ing fa­cil­ity where you’re train­ing me­chan­ics such as this re­quires it be a gen­eral avi­a­tion air­port,” Deal said, adding that such a re­quire­ment would “prob­a­bly” be put into a writ­ten agree­ment.

County of­fi­cials greeted the state’s pro­posal as an eco­nomic boost, with the po­ten­tial to re­solve long-stand­ing tur­moil in the com­mu­nity over whether to com­mer­cial­ize the air­port and at­tract air­line ser­vice.

The gover­nor’s stance aligns the state with Pauld­ing air­port anti-com­mer­cial­iza­tion forces, in­clud­ing At­lanta-based Delta Air Lines. The plan to com­mer­cial­ize the air­port, an­nounced in 2013, would have cre­ated a sec­ond air­port in metro At­lanta for com­mer­cial air­lin­ers. The driv­ing force be­hind it was de­vel­oper Brett Smith, who turned his at­ten­tion to Pauld­ing County af­ter a failed at­tempt to com­mer­cial­ize Gwin­nett County’s Briscoe Field.

The pro­posal quickly drew op­po­si­tion from Delta, which viewed it as a com­pet­i­tive threat to its dom­i­nance at Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port where the com­pany op­er­ates its largest hub. The pro­posal also led to a se­ries of law­suits and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval in Pauld­ing County, with pro-com­mer­cial­iza­tion county com­mis­sion­ers voted out in 2014.

The com­mer­cial­iza­tion ef­fort was halted by the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion ear­lier this year when it closed its file on the air­port’s ap­pli­ca­tion be­cause the air­port didn’t sub­mit re­vi­sions as re­quested.

But it still left the door open to a new ap­pli­ca­tion next year, when a new group of Pauld­ing county com­mis­sion­ers take their seats and re­place out­go­ing com­mis­sion­ers who have op­posed com­mer­cial­iza­tion. That pos­si­bil­ity was damp­ened with the gover­nor’s an­nounce­ment.

Deal said em­ploy­ers such as Gulf­stream and Delta need the types of air­craft me­chan­ics that the academy would pro­duce.

With baby boomers re­tir­ing and the avi­a­tion in­dus­try grow­ing, the state over­all needs about 2,000 air­frame and pow­er­plant me­chan­ics a year, ac­cord­ing to the gover­nor. He said the av­er­age salary for those jobs is nearly $30 an hour.

“Your abil­ity to find a job will be al­most in­stan­ta­neous,” Deal said. “You’re go­ing to have a lot of young peo­ple who look at this as a real op­por­tu­nity.”

Stu­dents would be able to at­tend the academy tu­ition-free through the state’s HOPE Ca­reer Grant, which funds tu­ition for col­lege stu­dents who ma­jor in high-de­mand fields. Deal said 88 per­cent of those trained get jobs in their field.

Be­fore con­struc­tion of the academy can be­gin, the Pauld­ing County Air­port Author­ity would need to trans­fer 3.9 acres of land next to the ter­mi­nal to the county’s In­dus­trial Build­ing Author­ity, which would then trans­fer the land to the state, ac­cord­ing to air­port author­ity direc­tor Terry Tib­bitts. The state plans to fi­nal­ize the deed be­fore Deal leaves of­fice.

The re­quire­ment that the air­port not com­mer­cial­ize is “a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion,” Tib­bitts said, ex­press­ing doubt that the county would chal­lenge the state’s plan, adding that coun­ties de­pend on state fund­ing.

State Sen. Mike Du­gan, R-Carrollton, and state Rep. Micah Grav­ley, R-Dou­glasville, who worked on the deal, said a pre­req­ui­site was that lo­cal of­fi­cials in Pauld­ing County were on board — in­clud­ing county com­mis­sion­ers as well as county and air­port lead­ers who have pushed for com­mer­cial­iza­tion and those op­posed to it.

Du­gan said he thinks with the avi­a­tion academy at the air­port, “com­mer­cial­iza­tion is next to im­pos­si­ble.”

Yet, it’s still un­clear how Smith’s Sil­ver Comet Ter­mi­nal Part­ners, Pauld­ing air­port’s de­vel­op­ment part­ner that has an agree­ment to com­mer­cial­ize the air­port, will re­spond.

Af­ter years of bit­ter dis­putes be­tween res­i­dents and Pauld­ing of­fi­cials over com­mer­cial­iza­tion, many elected of­fi­cials in the county ex­pressed hope that the de­vel­op­ment would end con­flict over the fu­ture of the air­port that to­day is known as Sil­ver Comet Field.

“This solves ev­ery is­sue we’ve been hav­ing out here,” Grav­ley said. “This is an an­swer to our prayers .... It’s an ex­treme pos­i­tive com­ing out of Pauld­ing County, and we need that.”

HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC. COM

Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal an­nounces plans Fri­day for Chat­ta­hoochee Tech­ni­cal Col­lege’s avi­a­tion academy at Sil­ver Comet Field.

HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Gov. Nathan Deal (left) greets state Sen. Bill Heath Fri­day at Sil­ver Comet Field to an­nounce plans for an air­craft main­te­nance train­ing fa­cil­ity.

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