Augusta Regional Airport plans improvements

After a record-breaking 2010, Augusta Regional Airport officials are hoping big changes will help push the airport's lucky streak into this year.

"As our numbers here continue to grow, we're going to surpass other airlines and other cities," said the airport's director of marketing, Diane Johnston.

"We think we will continue to grow. We're just smoking."

Within a year, airport officials plan to add more than 400 parking spaces, build a restaurant and lounge, and incorporate nonstop flights to New York and Washington, Johnston said.

The changes come after the airport broke a nearly two-decade-old record with nearly a half-million passengers flying through Augusta in 2010.

The airport made a comeback from a low point of 275,723 travelers in 2006 and beat 1992's record of 492,906 travelers.

Johnston said the successful year had a lot to do with airline reliability, which has improved since 2005 when Delta Air Lines carrier Atlantic Southeast canceled 8 percent of flights out of Augusta.

In 2006, airport officials persuaded U.S. Airways to lower fares as an experiment to entice customers, and Delta quickly followed suit.

Throughout those changes many passengers have made the Augusta airport a focal point of their travels.

Shelly Morris, of Thomson, has been traveling through the Augusta airport since the 1970s for business and pleasure.

While running an equestrian vacation agency in the 1990s, Morris would often connect to international flights in Atlanta from Augusta.

On Friday, she munched on a turkey sandwich and a Coca-Cola from the snack bar while waiting for her niece to arrive from Florida. She talked about the convenience of having an airport close to her home.

"With those international flights, when you get home you're so tired and you don't want to drive all that way home from Atlanta," Morris said.

Friday was one of hundreds of trips to the airport that Morris has made over the years, but a first for a group of glammed-out Los Angeles guys.

Rock band Adler's Appetite touched down in Augusta from Los Angeles on Friday for its show at Sky City.

Though the group is used to flying on jets and riding on tour buses, bassist Chip Z'Nuff said there are benefits to flying through smaller airports.

"All of our stuff showed up, so that's a plus," he said. "Delta has dealt Chip Z'Nuff a blow in the past, so this is good."

The band landed with boxes of instruments and rock gear and arrived in time for a radio interview and album-signing before their show.

They won't be through the Augusta airport again, however, because they planned to drive to Atlanta for a show today and begin a one-month European tour Monday. It will be back to the massive airports and far from the low-key setting of Augusta Regional.

Z'Nuff has big plans.

"In Rome, the first thing I'm doing is getting off the plane and going to the Vatican to get blessed by the father," he said.