County airport expansion plan nearly ready

Consultants and stakeholders at Fulton County Executive Airport look over plans to lengthen the main runway and replace the crosswind runway with hangars at a public meeting Feb. 16, 2023,

Credit: Jim Gaines

Credit: Jim Gaines

Consultants and stakeholders at Fulton County Executive Airport look over plans to lengthen the main runway and replace the crosswind runway with hangars at a public meeting Feb. 16, 2023,

A major remake is in the works for Fulton County Executive Airport, allowing for more corporate jet storage and longer flights.

The airport’s master plan, looking out to 2040, is open for public comments. A small crowd gathered at the airport Thursday evening to learn about the plan, filing past 10 display boards showing project details with consultants from engineering firm Michael Baker on hand to answer questions.

That event was the last stage in updating the master plan, Airport Manager Jonathan Gauthier said. Once public comments are finalized, the plan will go to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which will forward it to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The executive airport is west of downtown on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, just northwest of the juncture of interstates 20 and 285. Consultants have estimated that aircraft based at the airport will rise from 99 in 2021 to 137 by 2040.

The updated design is for use by the “most demanding” aircraft expected to make at least 500 takeoffs and landings. That’s the Gulfstream G550/650, a twin-engine jet that’s 100 feet long, weighing nearly 50 tons fully loaded, and needing 6,101 feet of runway, according to the posted information.

“In the immediate (future), we need to address what’s called our runway safety areas,” Gauthier said. That means providing room in case a plane goes off the runway. Officials plan to build crash zones on each end of the main runway to stop planes — the same concept as runaway-truck ramps on mountainous highways, he said.

The main runway is to be extended 305 feet, to 6,101 feet in length, allowing corporate jets to take off fully laden with fuel for international trips, Gauthier said. Currently many of those planes, even if based at Fulton County Executive Airport, have to top up their fuel at Hartsfield-Jackson, which has a 10,000-foot runway, he said.

The executive airport saw 82,000 takeoffs and landings last year, up 3,200 from 2021, Gauthier said. Corporate jets make up about 85% of the airport’s traffic, he said. The field is used heavily by Coca-Cola executives, flying to facilities worldwide; and some celebrities, Gauthier said.

The airport needs to grow because space is running low, he said. A later phase would extend the runway to 7,000 feet.

After the main runway is lengthened, the plan calls for closing the crosswind runway, turning it into a taxiway, and lining it with seven more 100-foot-by-100-foot hangars.

The plan also calls for renovating airport buildings, adding a business park and some adjacent redevelopment, and a U.S. Customs facility.

The county quietly bought up troubled properties near the airport, working with police to identify problem areas, County Manager Dick Anderson said. That property will be redeveloped separately from the airport master planning process, he said.

An environmental assessment will determine the pace of the project, but it should proceed within the next few years, Gauthier said.

The airport expansion is likely a $100 million project overall, Anderson said.

For at least the essential aviation components of the plan, the bulk of funding is expected to come from federal grants, Gauthier said. Typically that formula is 90% federal funding, 5% state funding and a 5% local match, he said.

Public comments will be accepted online for another 30 days, after which consultants will provide “comments to those comments” and post everything on the airport’s webpage, prior to the plan’s submission to state and federal officials, Gauthier said.

A presentation and video on the master plan can be viewed on the airport’s page on the Fulton County government website, and comments can be submitted on the form at the bottom of the page: https://fultoncountyga.gov/inside-fulton-county/fulton-county-departments/public-works/airport.

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