From the notebook of business editor Tim Rausch

Did the new runway shoot down the Eagle?

The new runway at Augusta Regional Airport may have led to the demise of American Eagle in Augusta.

In a debriefing with airport marketing director Diane Johnston, she points out that Eagle was getting stronger in the first half of 2011 through the efforts of an airline sales representative, who would hit Fort Gordon for example.

Then the airport took the main runway offline to resurface it. That meant the jets had to use the alternate – and shorter – runway.

“When you’re flying out of a 6,000-foot strip, you have to really limit your weight. The only way they could restrict weight was by limiting the number of passengers and the number of bags. They were going out with 29 or 30 passengers a flight,” Johnston said of Eagle.

It is hard to make money on a long distance flight to Dallas with fewer passengers.

Then the timing didn’t work out. American Airlines filed for bankruptcy about the time that the main runway came back online, and there wasn’t enough time for the Augusta flights to recover its passengers numbers.

American retired its turbo prop fleet and went grabbing for regional jets to fill the gaps, essentially dropping the flights of some of the places where the grabbing took place.

Well, where can they pull jets from areas that aren’t doing well? Augusta is sitting there with four bad months.

“It was kind of an easy decision for them to make,” Johnston said.

Eagle stopped flying to Augusta on Monday. Once the bankruptcy process is done, she hopes they’ll give Augusta another look.

COLOR TIME: The land for Rockwood’s new pigment plant is under the control of the company and the economic development authority.

The 135 acres for the pigment facility is across the street from the airport.

Rockwood’s engineers are designing the $115 million plant right now. No one has built a new iron oxide pigment production plant in the U.S. in nearly 35 years, so there’s a lot of work to be done.

The company that makes coloring agents for concrete and plastic and will employ between 80 and 100 people at the facility. It should be running by the middle of 2013.

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