Auburn University Regional Airport, a long-standing partnership among the cities of Auburn and Opelika, Lee County and Auburn University, is growing along with the university’s aviation program.
Bill Hutto met with city leaders, state representatives and Auburn school board leaders to discuss updates Tuesday for the Auburn Chamber of Commerce Tuesday Talk.
“(People) know that the airport is truly supported by the community,” hesaid.
The airport sees a lot of activity, Hutto said, from cargo loads to charter flights. Air ambulances are used at the airport to take patients to hospitals such as UAB in Birmingham. The airport fills up quickly on college football game days.
A recent $800,000 pavement resurfacing project is just one of the recent improvements to the airport.
“We’ve done over $45 million worth of improvements to the airport in the last 14 years, which is a pretty strong number for our community,” Hutto said. “We’re very proud of that.”
He said it’s time to revisit the airport master plan, and he hopes to see new hangars on the property soon.
Auburn aviation began in 1907 with a visit from Orville and Wilbur Wright, which inspired the creation of the aviation program and airport.
The Department of Aviation has soared over recent years and is serving over 450 students, Hutto said. The department includes 62 percent out-of-state students, 16 percent women and 14 percent veteran students.
“If you look, even back in 2016-17, three years ago we had less than 100 declared students in the program,” Hutto said.
This is in part because students were not allowed to declare their major until their junior year at the time, but the growth is still there.
Hutto said that he expects more than 500 students in the spring semester working on aviation management or professional flight degrees.
The university has a strong partnership with Delta, which helped build the Delta Education Aviation Building — its first corporate-sponsored building.
There are 34 aircraft in use, plus seven simulators to train aspiring young pilots, Hutto said.
“From the airport’s side, our chief duty is to support this community’s aviation needs from the Sunday Flyer to more importantly and most importantly, probably from the community perspective at least, is the economic development needs of our community,” he said.