On the heels of years of massive expansion, airport officials and members of the Augusta Aviation Commission have started working on ideas for the next steps of development.
Preliminary work is underway to create a new master plan for the airport, only the second such plan in its history. Once approved to begin the study by the Federal Aviation Administration, studies, analysis and public information meetings could take 18 months before a final report is prepared.
The airport, originally a World War II-era flight training airfield, completed its first master plan in 2002. More than $50 million has been invested since 2005 to replace old buildings with modern facilities.
A new commercial airline terminal opened in 2007 and a general aviation terminal opened last year. The main runway also was rebuilt and parking lots were expanded.
Augusta Regional recorded an all-time high for passenger numbers in 2012, with more than 550,000 passengers. After 15 years of falling passenger numbers, they have grown 102 percent since 2006.
Aviation Commissioner Cedric Johnson said a forecast of future passenger growth needs to be done before determining future needs.
“If we’re going to expand, we need to have a plan in place so we have a strategy of where to place buildings and parking lots,” Johnson said. “We are not even close to our potential passenger numbers.”
Aviation commission chairman Douglas Lively said the airport needs to maintain U.S. Airways service to Washington and work to get new nonstop routes, possibly to Texas and Florida.
The airport will also turn its focus to economic development. For years, airport officials have wanted to develop unused land into an industrial park for aviation-related manufacturers.
The idea got a jump-start this year with the completion of Gen. Perry Smith Parkway, a half-mile divided highway from Doug Barnard Parkway to a 200-acre vacant plot on the southeastern portion of the airport property.
The airport needs to focus on attracting companies to the park, Lively said.
“That is the single biggest thing I want us to strive and drive toward, as a contributor to Augusta’s economy other than people flying in,” he said.
In addition to an industrial park, Commissioner Frank Bowman would like to see a hotel with conference rooms at the airport. Expanding aircraft parking ramps and adding more nonstop flights are also on his radar.
“I wish we could get that Dallas flight back again,” Bowman said. Dallas-based American Eagle ended its flights into Augusta Regional in January 2012.
Creating a recreation space on airport grounds is another idea for the future, Lively said. He’d like to see a park outside of the airport’s secure area where residents can watch aircraft departing and landing.