Originally created 06/19/00

Dreams of larger Augusta airport

I have lived in Atlanta for almost 30 years, but whenever I am asked where I am from, I still say Augusta. I was born there and it will always be home.

I hope that my home, the second largest metropolitan area in our state, will continue to be at the forefront of Georgia's booming economy. As we enter the age of e-commerce, where airport distribution facilities will likely play an ever-increasing role in the delivery of goods, it is my further hope that Augusta can find a way to develop a regional airport.

One of the latest buzz words in the airline industry is "fly over." The term refers, I believe, to one carrier's regional jets "flying over" a competitor's hub. For example, Continental Airline's regional subsidiary, Continental Express, flies over Delta's Atlanta hub with direct air service from Greenville, S.C., to Houston, Texas. The new service from Augusta to Cincinnati will, in a sense, "fly over" Atlanta. Similarly, United Airline's regional carrier, United Express, could "fly over" Atlanta with direct service from Chicago to Augusta's new regional airport.

"Fly overs" and the poor air quality north, south and west of Atlanta could allow Augusta to develop a new regional airport east of Atlanta within the Macon, Athens, Augusta triangle. Many major metropolitan areas now have airports an hour's drive or more from the central city. It's not inconceivable to imagine Augusta's new regional airport being, de facto, Atlanta's second airport.

"Fly overs" can test the market demand for an alternative airport and can grow into larger jet service. Demand for Delta's regional jets to Manchester, N.H., was so strong that Delta switched to full size MD-88's. Manchester, only an hour north of Boston, has become a good alternative airport for New England travelers.

Might Georgia-bound travelers select a less crowded alternative airport 60 miles east of Atlanta's perimeter and 40 miles west of Augusta's? High-speed rail between Atlanta and Augusta, rather than between Atlanta and Chattanooga, would keep the economic benefits of the alternative airport within Georgia.

I don't underestimate the enormous financial task of putting together such an enterprise or the political difficulties involved in locating a new airport (I have a friend who tells me the Lake Oconee area is the epicenter of Georgia political contributions), but I can still dream, can't I? After all, we're talking about my home.

Robert D. Fortson, Atlanta


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