Local administrators and business people have been working with a southern-based engineering firm known as Garver to create a land use plan that will expand the airport — and, they hope, bring more economic opportunity to the community.
“We’re about to submit those to the FAA for review,” said Ryan Reed, project manager for Garver. “Then, once we make sure they don’t have any issues with any of it, then we’re going to finalize that plan, and that’s when we would put the dollar values to it.”
The plan would create enough hangar space for 80 to 90 planes, depending on the sizes clients would have, and at least double the traffic at the airport, he said.
“This is an aggressive plan,” Reed said. “It’s typically couched as a 20-year plan. So, it’s going to be staged over 10 to 20 years. It would be slowly growing.”
It could also be paid for over time with grants from the FAA and from the state, said City Planner Toby Bennington.
“Each year we can make application, based on priorities, we can make application of grant funds to the Federal Aviation Administration,” he said. “The funding formula is actually a grant 95 percent FAA, 2.5 percent state Department of Transportation Aeronautics Bureau, and 2.5 percent local match. So out of all that money, the local match is just 2.5 percent out of 100 percent.”
The money can be used for runways, buildings, support services such as emergency vehicles — things that keep an airport safe, functional and accessible, he said.
It’s important to invest in the airport because it is a magnet for economic development, Reed and Bennington said. The city has already had inquiries about what kind of hangars and services may be available at the airport in the future.
“I think the more that the city directs attention in its planning and development of the airport, I think the more attention that will come forward,” Bennington said.
The need is there, said airport manager David Otwell. Other nearby airports have airplanes sitting in the open because there is not enough hangar space available for all the clients.
“It will bring people in because, basically, if you want to look at it from a corporate standpoint, if a corporation invests multi-million dollars into a corporate jet, they’re not going to allow it to sit outside,” Otwell said. “That’s where you need the increased hangar space.”
Anniston’s airport has room to grow. Right now, it is operating well below capacity. The majority of its traffic consists of military flights, which are on the rise, and local pilots with their own aircraft, along with some corporate planes.
“We probably average, probably somewhere (from) eight to 12 flights a day,” Otwell said. “We can handle significantly much more than we’re getting right now.”
On a race weekend, the airport typically has between 30 and 40 large aircraft fly in, and it easily accommodates the traffic, he said. It could easily handle that kind of traffic on a regular basis.
The problem right now is the economy is creating a pretty strong headwind.
“It’s just, business is down right now,” Otwell said. “It’s down pretty much nationwide.”
However, administrators are looking to the future to decide what kind of expansion to do. The airport can accept larger planes on its 7,000-foot runway. Consequently, they're looking at adding a mixture of large hangars and small hangars. The plan is flexible and can be adjusted as clients express their needs, Bennington said.
“What is being created is an airport of opportunity,” he said. “It just needs to be an airport that provides the right service for all types of economic development activity and also opportunity for recreational pilots that live in the area.”
Contact staff writer Laura Camper at 256-235-3545.