In Georgia, Welcoming a New Airport

February 14, 2011

It’s one of aviation’s most rare occurrences: the birth of a new airport. It happened just a few months ago near the small town of Dallas, GA. Paulding County Northwest Atlanta Airport is the brainchild of former County Transportation Director Blake Swafford, who left that job to become the airport manager.

“The metro area is running out of space for airports,” Swafford said. “Other airports are being swallowed up by growth. Our idea was to get ahead of that growth.”

Swafford bet Paulding County, about 30 miles Northwest of downtown Atlanta, would be right in the path of expansion for the nation’s seventh-largest market.

With one eye on metropolitan Atlanta’s expansion, Swafford is also keenly aware of the ways in which aviation can benefit Paulding County. Once one of America’s fastest-growing counties, it was decimated by the bursting real estate bubble. Construction, the county’s largest industry, evaporated. Swafford sees that as vindication of his plan to make aviation the county’s biggest employer.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that Georgia is the eighth-largest state in the country in aerospace and aviation,” Swafford said. “Georgia Tech has the fourth-largest aviation program in the country. Within a couple of miles of us, we have the busiest airport in the world (Hartsfield-Jackson), the largest airline in the world (Delta) and one of the largest aerospace manufacturing operations in Lockheed-Martin.”

With that in mind, Swafford and other Paulding County officials are about to break ground on a 110-acre industrial park adjacent to the airport. He hopes to make it a center of activity for aviation-related companies. That’s good for the industry, Swafford said – and good for Paulding County.

The industrial park will be ready for tenants in the next 24-36 months, Swafford said. He hopes that falls into the prime time of the nation’s next economic recovery.

Right now, nine aircraft, including a Cessna Citation business jet, are based at Paulding County Northwest Atlanta Airport. Swafford’s next challenge: attracting more aircraft owners and aviation-related businesses. He doesn’t think that will be difficult.

“We have the best facilities you’ll find anywhere in the world. Being brand new, we have the safest runway you can build. We have a plethora of approaches. Today, we’re attracting a lot of transient aircraft from Florida going to the Northeast. We’re right on the edge of Atlanta’s Class B airspace.” All that, Swafford figures, will make for sure and rapid growth over the next few years.”