At its meeting Tuesday, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved a contract with YLH Construction Company Inc. to build a new customs inspection facility at Cobb County Airport-McCollum Field in Kennesaw, which will allow the airport to receive international flights.
“Up to this point, whenever the aircraft leave here — they can go international from here, so they leave Cobb County airport flying overseas, but when they come back, they have to stop at another airport before they can come home to Cobb County,” said Karl Von Hagel, airport manager.
Von Hagel said the new 2,900-square-foot facility will have a large office, a pre-check area, an inspection area, a post-inspection area, an interview room and a holding cell. Construction of the $800,000 facility is expected to begin in September and should be complete by April 2015, he added.
Tim Lee, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the customs facility and other upgrades to the airport — including a new $3 million, 80-foot control tower, also expected to open in April 2015, and a longer runway, which opened about two years ago — make the airport more attractive for companies that do international business.
“As we become a smaller economy globally, if you would, and there’s more companies that have international capabilities — and given the fact that we’ve also coupled this tower with the extended runway that gives the ability to have heavier jets take off with more fuel — the opportunity to service international companies with international needs are met with the combination of the runway and with the customs office.”
Von Hagel agreed, saying the customs facility will allow the airport to be competitive on the world market.
“These airplanes are all about convenience and time. That’s how they pay for themselves. And if you’re not providing an atmosphere where they can be convenient and save time, you put yourself at an economic disadvantage,” he said.
Commissioner Helen Goreham, whose district includes the airport, said the customs facility will also lead to increased revenue for the county, which owns the airport.
“It’s going to result in, obviously, increased convenience for both the pleasure fliers and corporate, business fliers. So instead of having to go to Hartsfield (Jackson International Airport in Atlanta), they can enter the country here and go through customs, which should have an increased economic effect on the airport, resulting in increased usage of the airport, which, in turn, results in increased tax dollars for Cobb County.”
The customs facility will be manned by an inspector with U.S. Customs and Border Protection who will be on site for a minimum of 40 hours per week, Von Hagel said, and construction will be financed by the airport’s fixed-base operator: Hawthorne Global Aviation Services. Hawthorne will also fund the facility’s operation, Von Hagel said.
The contract to build and operate the facility is between Cobb County and the CBP, so although Hawthorne will finance the facility’s construction and operation, it will provide funds to the county, which will then pay YLH Construction and eventually, the CBP. This arrangement allows the county to ensure the facility will be up to the standards agreed upon in its contracts with CBP.
“We have to provide CBP a certain facility and certain standards through our agreement with CBP, so in order to make sure that we get all those standards satisfied and we honor our agreement with CBP, Hawthorne and the county agreed that the county will go ahead and (manage) the construction to make sure all the conditions are fulfilled and that they’ll fund it,” Von Hagel said.
As the fixed-base operator, Hawthorne also provides fuel, terminal and aircraft storage services, Von Hagel said.
A 2010 study showed the airport has an economic impact of about $112 million every year and supports 867 jobs, Von Hagel said, such as restaurant and hotel employees.
There are about 250 daily employees based at the airport itself, Von Hagel said, including two county employees — himself and an airfield maintenance worker. About 17 companies operating out of the airport employ the other 248, he added.