On Tuesday, the BoC voted 5-0 to approve two projects totaling more than $3 million in upgrades to the Cobb County Airport-McCollum Field in Kennesaw.
One vote was to approve a contract with the Georgia Department of Transportation for construction of a new, 80-foot-tall air traffic control tower, estimated to cost nearly $3 million and open around April 2015, according to Karl Von Hagel, airport manager.
The other vote was to approve an agreement with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Service to provide information technology services for a customs inspection facility for all future international arrivals.
In order to inspect passengers and baggage coming off international flights docking at Cobb’s airport, $95,000 will be spent to open a customs facility at the beginning of 2015.
Hagel said the Federal Aviation Administration is supportive of the county’s plans because the Cobb airport is integral to the state’s aviation system.
The Cobb airport is seen as a “reliever airport,” Hagel said, which means large commercial flights are typically destined for Hartsfield–Jackson in Atlanta, while smaller private planes are directed to airports in the perimeter, such as McCollum Field.
According to a report given to the commissioners on Tuesday by Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo, the FAA is offering $1.25 million toward the new tower with the Georgia Department of Transportation adding another $125,000.
The tower project will require a local match of more than $1.6 million, with $1.25 million accounted for by the airport’s budget. The rest of the $350,000 will come from an airport reserve account, Hagel said.
“It will be most of the reserves,” he said. “It came pretty close to dollar to dollar.”
A critical addition
Hagel has already selected a contractor, Peter Brown Construction, Inc. out of Tampa, Fla.
Construction is expected to begin around July 1 and take nine months.
The new tower will be placed just 50 feet north of where the existing one stands, Hagel said. Once the project is completed, the old tower will be torn down, but the building surrounding the old tower location, which houses Hagel’s office, will remain.
The original tower was constructed 20 years ago and is only 40 feet tall, Hagel said. The new FAA standard is 80 feet tall.
Because the existing tower is shorter, Hagel said traffic controllers do not have the “best seat” for seeing what is happening on the ground.
“There are some blind spots and reflection issues,” Hagel said.
He added the type of flying has also changed, becoming “a lot more radio intensive.”
Technology needs in the digital age have also expanded the space needed for equipment, overflowing to tables outside the tower building, Hagel said.
McCollum Field, owned and operated by the county, comprises 320 acres with one 6,311-foot-long concrete runway.
About 240 aircraft are based at the airport, which sees an average of 170 takeoffs or landings each day, Hagel said.
Although the airport supports around 842 jobs, only three positions are county employees, Hagel said. The rest are employed by private companies running their airline operations.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, whose district includes McCollum Field, said the “modern and effective” tower was a long-term plan to meet technology needs so operators can provide safety “for decades to come.”
Cobb greets international arrivals
During the peak of the economic recession, Hagel said, businesses were looking for ways to make air travel more cost effective, especially companies with facilities or customers in other countries.
Currently, customers can take off from the Cobb airport on international flights, but arrivals are not possible because there is no customs inspection office.
This means some customers will land at other Georgia airports and drive back to Cobb, Hagel said. He also said some businesses have not placed corporate offices in Cobb due to the lack of international return flight options at the local airport.
The new customs facility will be funded by a private company operating out of the Cobb airport, Atlanta Executive Jet Center.
In August 2013, the BoC approved the conceptual design for the new customs inspection facility. Hagel said while the county will manage the project, AEJC will pay for the installation of equipment and any future maintenance to operate out of the 2,900-square-foot building.
Hagel estimates the purchase and installation of equipment will cost $95,224, with network connectivity and maintenance costs at $8,391 per year.
Per the agreement, AEJC has already given the county $70,000 for the project, according to DiMassimo.
Goreham said both the new tower and customs inspection services “are integral factors to support the economic engine the airport is in this portion of the county and the region.”
The seven-month construction project will mean customs inspections can start at the beginning of 2015, Hagel said.
Upon initial startup, Hagel expects the airport to have three to four more flights per week, with as many as 60 more flights a month after a year or two.
“It is a function of getting the word out for business to grow,” Hagel said.
The word Hagel hopes to spread is that Cobb has a “full, first-class, international operating airport.”