Since its customs facility opened this summer, the county’s airport has welcomed direct flights from as far away as Stockholm, Sweden.
Built by the county in 1960, Cobb County International Airport-McCollum Field is a general aviation airport that caters to private and corporate aircraft, as opposed to a commercial airport like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.
Improvements over the next five years will focus on expanding the north tarmac and improving visibility as the airport positions itself to serve a growing economy and county, according to airport manager Karl Von Hagel.
The Airport Capital Improvement Plan, an annual planning document used by the Federal Aviation Administration and the state to plan resource distribution, was approved by the Cobb Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. The document, which prioritizes proposed improvements over the next six years, is for planning only and subject to change.
Notable projects include expanding the northern apron, or tarmac, by as much as 30 percent over the next few years to the tune of several million dollars.
Doing so would relieve congestion and bring the airport up to modern safety best practices, Von Hagel said.
“As things get rebuilt, as funding becomes available, things get improved,” he said.
The airport is planning about $700,000 of improvements in 2016. The airport carried out nearly $6 million in improvements in 2015. Improvements are largely funded by FAA grants supplemented by state money and revenue generated by the airport itself.
For 2016, airport management is also planning to install a $350,000 approach lighting system on the east end of the runway to help guide planes in during times of low visibility. They could eventually lengthen the runway by 200 feet, but at the moment that expansion is not justified, Von Hagel said.
The airport is owned by the county, which leases land to Hawthorne Global Aviation Services and other service providers. Hawthorne runs the terminal, hangars and the new customs facility, in addition to selling fuel.
“The grand vision is to support the community and allow the airport to be an economic engine wherever it can in creating jobs and supporting industry,” he said. Large companies looking to move to Cobb County, for example, should be able to count on the airport to accommodate the transport of supplies and people.
Von Hagel said the airport contributes $112 million to the local economy and supports more than 800 jobs. He said it is the only metro Atlanta general aviation airport with an on-site customs facility, meaning that international flights need to give just two hours of notice, compared to Gwinnett and Fulton county airports, which require more time to call in customs officials.
“Customs has opened us up to the world market,” he said, adding that most international flights come from the Caribbean. The airport sees 200 takeoffs and landings a day, mostly moving people but also last-minute parts and inventory, Von Hagel added. Corporate customers, he said, prefer general aviation airports like Cobb’s over large commercial airports because it saves time and allows them to stop by multiple cities in one day with less hassle.
The airport also serves the Georgia State Patrol and other public agencies, such as emergency medical transport.
Commissioner Bob Weatherford, who represents the area, said the customs facility was a boon to the airport and the local economy. He said the addition of the Braves stadium to Cobb County and the possible Atlanta United soccer training facility in Marietta would bring more travel to the airport, some of it international.
“It can only help … both economically and prestige-wise,” he said.