Originally created 10/10/00

Residents voice concerns over airport



Lower air fares, fewer cancellations and more choices are what most people who attended Monday night's airport public input session said they wanted from Augusta Regional Airport.

The meeting, held at the Sheraton Augusta Hotel and Conference Center, is one of the key parts of the airport master plan being developed by Black & Veatch, an airport management consulting firm based in Concord, Calif.

Some of the 30 or so people who attended the meeting said they would like to see a nicer, friendlier airport, one with easier access to gates and curbside pickup of luggage.

Others told the consultants they'd like to see more opportunity for economic development and job creation at the airport. An airplane repair facility and high-tech companies were mentioned as possible magnet companies.

Bernie Starceski, one of the more vocal audience members, said he didn't understand why the airport needed a new master plan if it did one in 1995 for $170,000.

That plan, the airport terminal area study, is incomplete, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Then someone has bilked the FAA out of $170,000 for a master plan or what we're doing right now is a repeat of what we already did," he told the consultants. "Is that what we're doing?"

Mike Moroney of Black & Veatch said the 1995 plan is a terminal area study. He said he has not seen a master plan for the airport, and no one has been able to show him one.

"This airport has really suffered because of a lack of a consolidated study of the airport," Mr. Moroney said. "Your input is valuable in that it shows that there should be a master plan. We're working on one, and we'll get it done."

As part of the development of a master plan, Black & Veatch consultants have been interviewing city officials, business owners and residents, trying to determine what Augustans want from their airport.

Tim Weegar, interim director of Augusta Regional, said he would like to see foreign trade zone, Customs and Immigration offices at the airport.

Barry White, president of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he thinks a new airport terminal, if built, should be designed so that it is unique to Augusta.

Those in the audience included Aviation Commission members Marcie Wilhelmi, Cedric Johnson, Whitney O'Keefe, Ed McIntyre, Jimmy Drew, Sheila Johnson, Ernie Smith and Joe Scott. County Commissioner Andy Cheek also attended the meeting.

A second public input session is scheduled for Oct. 23. A time and place have not yet been determined.

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.