Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport: A Second Commercial Airport to Serve Atlanta?

A s I first reported back on November 19, 2013, the international airport in Atlanta is about to get some competition from what is now a small airport in western Georgia — but not if the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines has anything to say about it.

In fact — in what seemed to be a rather bizarre twist — a spokesperson for Delta Air Lines not only practically invited competing airlines to increase their presence at the international airport in Atlanta, but also reportedly offered to assist competitors in the process in order to keep Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport from growing and expanding.

Richard Hirst — who is the chief legal officer and an executive vice president of Delta Air Lines — reportedly sent a letter opposing the development to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently, citing that commercial air service in Paulding County “would wastefully divert federal transportation funding from” the international airport which currently serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area.

David Austin — the commission chairman of Paulding County — reportedly chastised Richard Anderson by claiming that his comments and actions of his opposition of the expansion of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport “are in direct opposition to your role as the 2014 chair-elect” of the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Anderson vowed to work together with Kasim Reed — the current mayor of Atlanta — to oppose any investment towards Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport, which is located approximately 35 miles northwest of Atlanta and west of the small town of Dallas, Georgia…

…but a decision earlier this month by the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States has apparently moved forward plans by Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to begin commercial airline service despite the aforementioned strong opposition, according to this article written by Alwyn Scott of Reuters.

According to this article written by Kelly Yamanouchi for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday, November 11, 2014 — amid efforts to commercialize Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport — the county commission voted 4-1 for an amended deal which reportedly hands over much of the control of the airport from the county to its airport authority.

Allegiant Travel Company — which owns Allegiant Air, at one time the most profitable airline in the United States — filed a letter of intent to provide commercial air service, according to Blake Swafford, who is the director of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. Other airlines are reportedly interested in providing service as well.

Swafford also claims that if Paulding County does not develop its own airport, the city of Atlanta — which supposedly owns nearly 10,000 acres of land in Paulding County that it purchased back in the 1970s specifically for the development of a second airport — could eventually build a major airport on that land. Development will allow Paulding County to control the scale of the airport.

Residents of Paulding County have expressed opposition, as a letter was reportedly sent to the Department of Transportation and signed by a number of them as are concerned about use of taxpayer money to fund the commercialization; and they supposedly asked for development activities to cease.

There is even an area of Facebook devoted to this opposition; as well as the official Internet web site to protect Paulding County which is also opposed to the expansion of the airport. Protect Paulding County claims that elected leaders worked “behind closed doors” to start commercial service after pledges years ago which promised that commercial air carriers would never land at the airport; but David Austin said meetings were held openly: “We never had to meet in secret because nobody ever came to our meetings. Until we announced we’re going for the (commercial certificate) nobody cared.”

Imagery ©2013 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2013 courtesy of Google Maps.

Imagery ©2013 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2013 courtesy of Google Maps. Click on the map to enlarge it.

I am not sure that players of the Atlanta Braves will consider using Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport if that team moves to a new site located in Cobb County — a county which abuts most of the eastern border of Paulding County and is located in the upper center of the map shown above — and starts the 2017 baseball season there, as Delta Air Lines is currently one of the official sponsors of the Atlanta Braves.

Tim Lee — who is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners in Cobb County — apologized for the way that the deal with the Atlanta Braves was handled, according to this article written by Ricky Leroux of The Marietta Daily Journal, which reports that a hearing scheduled by the Ethics Board of Cobb County is set to occur next week.

Could David Austin face a similar questioning of ethics as a result of the efforts to commercialize Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport? Paulding County has already paid approximately $1 million for the airport, which opened back in 2008; and funding has also included greater than $40 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as several million dollars from the state of Georgia.

Propeller Investments — a private equity firm based in New York and a major source of investment funds for the airport — had created a deal with officials of Paulding County to rename the airfield Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. The Silver Comet Trail — which passes near the airport — is 61.5 miles long and is a paved trail for people engaged in leisure activities such as walking, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. It was once an actual rail line which existed from 1897 through 1989 — when it was abandoned — and is named for the passenger rail service which operated on it from 1947 through 1969.

Although passengers based in Atlanta have been known to use the international airports in Birmingham, Nashville, Greenville-Spartanburg, Knoxville and Charlotte as alternatives, the nearest commercial airports to Atlanta are currently located in or near Athens, Macon and Columbus in Georgia; and Chattanooga in Tennessee. Those who are affiliated with the increase of commercial airline service at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport are aiming to change that — and that does not sit well with officials associated with Delta Air Lines and the city of Atlanta.

However, many major cities in the United States have at least two airports from which passengers may choose to depart. Although Atlanta is the 40th largest city in the United States in terms of population, its metropolitan area is the 11th largest and I believe it can certainly support a second airport.

Should Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport be that second airport as a commercial hub for Atlanta — a project which is considered “unnecessary, wasteful and doomed to become a costly failure”, according to opponents? What do you think?

Photograph courtesy of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport.

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