Second airport study finds no feasible sites

The study found that Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Cobb County is the best site in terms of market potential and development costs, but also has airspace and environmental problems and would require joint use with the military.

Cobb’s general aviation airport, McCollum Field, is a good site for accessibility but also would require an “extremely high development cost” -- estimated at $2.6 billion, according to the report.

“Based on the current cost-benefit analysis, none of the eight sites studied were found to be feasible at this time; however, given the growing population of the region, an ever changing economic climate, and the dynamic nature of aviation, the feasibility of a second airport in the Atlanta metropolitan region will need to be revisited periodically in the future,” the report said.

The report was done by Hartsfield-Jackson at the behest of the Federal Aviation Administration, which funded it. Although the city of Atlanta, which owns Hartsfield-Jackson, may have an incentive to keep commercial airline traffic in its jurisdiction, the FAA said it exercised oversight to assure the study was not biased.

According to the FAA, Hartsfield-Jackson has another 10 years of capacity, and other estimates allow even more time.

“Our updated plans will take us beyond that,” Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Louis Miller said. “We can build more gates, we can build a sixth runway, we could expand capacity.” The FAA’s modernization of its air traffic control infrastructure could also help accommodate more flights.

“I would not call it urgent,” said Scott Seritt, FAA Atlanta airports district office manager. “It takes a long time to build [an airport] but by the same token, if you look at the alternatives that are listed, you’re talking about airports that already exist.”

The airport is starting an update of its master plan, which will take about 18 months, Miller said. That plan will “examine all possible ways to expand the airport’s capacity within its current geographical footprint.” He said the study’s findings place “even more emphasis on maximizing Hartsfield-Jackson’s capacity.”

The study narrowed a collection of 29 potential sites to eight, which along with the Cobb and Dobbins sites included a site in Forsyth/Dawson counties and several other general aviation airports: Gwinnett County, Barrow County, Cherokee County, Paulding Northwest Atlanta and Cartersville.

Cobb Commission chairman Tim Lee said he thinks that the decision to find none of the sites feasible “was the right conclusion.” He said he hasn’t discussed whether residents want a commercial airport in Cobb, “but my gut says they don’t.”

Although efforts have been underway to consider the commercialization of Gwinnett County’s Briscoe Field, the study found that Gwinnett’s airport posed airspace challenges because of its location in the northeast arrival corridor for Hartsfield-Jackson, among other issues. The study estimated the total development for Gwinnett at roughly $2.2 billion.

Atlanta is one of a few major U.S. cities with no second commercial airport. The idea of building one has percolated for decades, but no plan has ever taken root.

Still, another study is possible to look into “who might be willing to and financially able” to pursue development of a commercial airport at one of the eight sites, Seritt said. “There are costs associated with this, there are political considerations.”

If any sites eventually became feasible, it’s unclear who would make the final call on the location.

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