Presenting results of a phone survey to Anniston City Council members at the airport on Friday, Jacksonville State University professor Richard Cobb revealed that many local hotel owners and managers didn’t utilize or didn’t know about the Anniston Regional Airport. Council members were at the airport for a tour to learn more about the facility and what it can do for the area.
The hotels’ lack of airport knowledge means, Cobb said, the owners aren’t trying to attract the itinerant fliers — pilots who land at the airport for fuel or for a visit, who might stop for food or spend the night. It could be an indication of why the airport may not be living up to what local officials see as its full potential to the region.
Besides learning the results of the economic impact survey, the council members received a brief history of the airport and future improvement plans for the site.
They heard from people representing Anniston Aviation, the fixed-base operator which leases space at the airport; Garver USA, the company working with the city on the development plan for the airport; and Cobb, who helped create an economic impact study of the airport.
The airport, with its 7,000-foot-runway, sees 32,000 takeoffs and landings per year. It has an economic impact of $11.6 million in the region and helped create 286 jobs, said Cobb.
But it can do much more, those in attendance Friday agreed.
“Our goal with this airport, when we bought into it five or six years ago, was just to help promote it to let it be the economic engine it can be and it should be,” said Patrick Cushman, co-owner of Anniston Aviation. “There are a lot of opportunities down here.”
But to make the most of those opportunities, Anniston Aviation, the cities of Anniston and Oxford, Talladega County and Calhoun County all need to work together, said Toby Bennington, Anniston city planner. Although the airport is owned by the city of Anniston, the site is surrounded by Oxford and unincorporated areas of Calhoun and Talladega counties, Bennington said.
“We have no land-use controls or zoning authority outside of airport property,” Bennington said. “We have to establish that partnership.”
If the airport does well, it could generate jobs and industry that will benefit the whole region, he said.
“The benefit is not in the money that’s generated here at the airport,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins. “The benefit is from the economic impact that comes from use of the airport.”
After the meeting, most of the council members were excited about the potential of the airport. Councilwoman Millie Harris said that as a member of the Planning Commission, she had heard some of the plans and benefits of the airport but was impressed with the amount of opportunities it brings the community.
“I think we have a huge opportunity to develop this airport and also to market it with our research and technology park at McClellan as a package,” Harris said.
Jenkins saw potential to marketing the airport to local industries.
“I would like to see us targeting the auto suppliers,” said Jenkins. “We’re right in the center of almost 20 different auto suppliers.”
Councilmen David Reddick and Seyram Selase would like to see the airport handle short commercial flights to Atlanta or Birmingham.
Reddick said he wasn’t sure why the airport was underutilized, but he’s ready to take a chance on it.
“Let’s get it moving,” Reddick said. “Whatever we need.”
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.