Kit Dunlap, the head of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, likes to describe Gainesville’s “little airport” as a success story.
Dunlap said the money going into improving the runway and facilities at the Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport at 1137 Aviation Way is money well spent.
“We’ve been very successful at this airport, and I think it’s very important for economic development,” Dunlap said.
This week, Gainesville City Council approved a resolution that puts in motion a $1.6 million runway safety project.
Airport Manager Terry Palmer calls it two projects in one because on top of upgrading much of the runway’s perimeter, the airport also will get new runway lighting.
The Federal Aviation Administration pays 90 percent of the project, while the city and Georgia Department of Transportation split the other 10 percent. The city’s local match is $95,106.
The new project comes on the heels of a recently completed striping and crack sealing of the runway at a cost of about $317,000 with the FAA shouldering 90 percent of the cost.
What excites Palmer most is the airport layout plan that will project the facility’s needs for the next 10 to 20 years, including an upgrade to the terminal building constructed in 1943, and the addition of T-hangars — plane storage structures built in a T shape — and corporate hangars.
“I really believe the next 10 years the airport is going to see demand increase more than we’ve probably seen in the last 25 years,” said Palmer.
Palmer, who’s been a pilot since 1990 and is in his fifth year as airport manager, said that Atlanta-area general aviation airports, such as DeKalb, which have been relieving overflow from Atlanta International, are now getting filled up themselves.
“Now, we are likely to become a reliever for them as the Atlanta metropolitan area expands,” Palmer said. “I think we’re just beginning to see those growing pains.”
Lead Edge Design Group is the city’s aviation engineering consultant that will work on the airport layout plan. Palmer said the city should be receiving federal grant money within the next three months to begin engineering work on the ALP.
Palmer said the airport has been operating on a budget of approximately $1 million year over year because it hasn’t been expanding and building more hangars. The airport has 81 T-hangars and 14 corporate hangars.
“We have 136 based aircraft,” Palmer said. “That’s pretty good for an airport our size to have that many aircraft.”
Dunlap said she has no doubt that once they build more hangars they’ll fill up.
“If they had more corporate hangars in there, I’m not going to tell you who it is, but I do know for sure they would be occupied,” she said. “A lot of corporate jets fly in and out.”