The Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport Saga Continues

O n his last day in office as the commission chairman of Paulding County, David Austin reportedly signed a quit claim deed in a secret attempt to transfer 163 acres of county land at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport to the airport authority of Paulding County.

The Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport Saga Continues

When two members of the Paulding County Board of Commissioners found out that two attorneys of the airport authority oversaw the signing of the deed, they quickly intervened to ensure that the deed was never filed in court, which stopped the transfer of land as a result.

“In executive session Wednesday, the commission voted to terminate the contract of its long standing law firm. It is a powerful, local firm that includes former speaker of the House Glen Richardson and has handled Paulding County business for some 30 years”, according to this article written by Dale Russell for the investigative team at WAGA-TV Fox 5 News in Atlanta. “David Austin came to the law firm of Talley, Richardson, and Cable to sign the deed. Why there? That is the law firm that represents both the county and the airport authority.”

Vernon Collett and Todd Pownall — who are two of the current commissioners of Paulding County — never voted to approve the transfer of any country land to the local airport authority and knew nothing about it; and although they were not surprised, they certainly were not happy. Rather, they were “upset, frustrated, and angry about the situation,” Pownall said, according to the aforementioned article.

Sordid History of the Airport — and Opposition to Its Expansion

As I first reported back on November 19, 2013, the international airport in Atlanta was about to get some competition from what is to this day still a small airport in western Georgia; but fierce opposition and outrage by citizens of Paulding County — as well as nine lawsuits which remain unsettled — blocked this idea from becoming a reality.

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. An area of Facebook is devoted to this opposition.

Protect Paulding County — whose official Internet web site is now defunct — claimed 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.”

David Austin reportedly chastised Richard Anderson — who was then the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines and was preparing to take over as the chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber — 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”.

Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport Map

Click on the map for an enlarged view. Imagery ©2013 TerraMetrics. Map data ©2013 courtesy of Google Maps.

A decision in November of 2014 from the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States had apparently moved forward plans by Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport — which is located approximately 35 miles northwest of Atlanta and west of the small town of Dallas, Georgia — to begin commercial airline service despite the aforementioned strong opposition.

In one of his final acts as chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines in May of 2016, Richard Anderson signed an agreement with Kasim Reed — who is the current mayor of Atlanta — in which Delta Air Lines is committed to keeping its world headquarters based in Atlanta; and in return, the city of Atlanta agreed not to build a second commercial airport during the next 20 years.

Potential Business For Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport

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 was the director of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. Other airlines reportedly expressed interested in providing service as well.

Swafford also claimed that if Paulding County does not develop its own airport, the city of Atlanta — which owns 10,165 acres of land in Paulding County that it purchased for $9,402,625.00 sometime back in the early 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.

The irony is that the city of Atlanta owns the land because officials once saw Paulding County as the perfect place for a potential second reliever airport for the international airport which currently serves the greater Atlanta metropolitan area — an idea which they now reject especially after that aforementioned signed agreement with Delta Air Lines, which occurred while Miguel Southwell was still the general manager of the airport. Southwell was fired in May of 2016.

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.

Summary

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 have been aiming to change that for at least five years.

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 — not necessarily in Paulding County…

…but there are too many factors which currently prevent the growth of Silver Comet Field of Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport into becoming a viable commercial alternative for the international airport which serves the greater metropolitan area of Atlanta: opposition from Delta Air Lines, the city of Atlanta, and many residents of Paulding County; the hilly terrain near the airport; the remote location of the airport at a significant distance from Atlanta; the lack of transportation services; United States highway 278 running parallel to the airport with no Interstate highway nearby; and the land surrounding much of the airport which is owned by the city of Atlanta — among other reasons.

This saga of the little airport in northwest Georgia has not concluded by a long shot…

The terminal of Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport was completed in May of 2010. Source: Silver Comet Field at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport.

2 thoughts on “The Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport Saga Continues”

  1. Christian says:

    Sordid indeed. It’s a bit puzzling that Atlanta wouldn’t want the benefits of having a second airport in the area as every other top tier city does. As illustrated with the Fox Theater, and recently the Jet Blue gate change incidents, Delta is certainly not afraid to go to extreme lengths to use its position to advance its agenda. That said, pretty much every other group stands to benefit from such a project, so it seems a bit puzzling that there is so much opposition.
    Also, just as a point of reference, TYS is not an international airport.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You are correct, Christian — that airport is not an international airport.

      Thank you for the correction.

      In addition to Delta Air Lines and the city of Atlanta, another main issue is that no one wants a second airport in their backyard — similar to the opposition of the Outer Perimeter…

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