Originally created 12/19/97

Powerful entities enter agreement



ATHENS, Ga. -- Two of Georgia's more powerful entities -- the University of Georgia Athletic and Delta Air Lines -- have tentatively pledged to lend support to a runway-lengthening project at Athens-Ben Epps Airport.

The project, which would lengthen the runway from 5,500 feet to 6,000 feet, with a possible future expansion to 6,500 feet, could allow the airport to accommodate Delta Air Lines commuter flights and Delta charters for the UGA football team and other athletic teams.

"Obviously, the University of Georgia is one of our key customers," Harold Beavis, a Delta executive who handles governmental relations for the company, told the Athens-Ben Epps Airport Authority at meeting Wednesday.

Loran Smith, executive secretary of the Northeast Georgia Bulldog Club, was at the authority meeting to express the athletic association's interest in the possibility of having chartered aircraft fly directly out of Athens.

Currently, most teams are driven to Atlanta to catch Delta charters to out-of-state games.

Mr. Beavis cautioned the authority that the Boeing aircraft it routinely uses for UGA athletic charter flights cannot land on runways shorter than 6,500 feet under its contract with pilots.

He also said starting commuter flights to Athens might be problematic, because jets it would probably use would have to carry 70 to 80 passengers on flights out of Athens, and he was not convinced there were that many potential passengers in Athens.

Airways Express, the only regularly scheduled commuter service from Athens, uses 19-passenger Gulfstream turboprop aircraft for its three daily flights between Athens and Charlotte, N.C.

Mr. Beavis said Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a commuter service partially owned by Delta, might be interested in looking at the Athens market.

He told the authority, though, that he and other Delta officials would "try our best" to help lobby the federal government for funding for a runway extension.