New Terminal a Reality?

KK Snyder

Friday, June 4th, 2010

For the past six years, Southwest Georgia Regional Airport Director Yvette Aehle has worked hard to improve the image and reputation of this small town hub, and hopes all that hard word is about to pay off.

Already, the airport has undergone a complete rehabilitation of the entire airfield, has reopened seven taxiways and is in the midst of a major airfield electrical system project, including new lights, signage, rotating beacon and new pavement markings, said Aehle.

In addition, the security checkpoint has been expanded and moved to the outside of the screening room into a section of the waiting area. And while all of those changes are beneficial to the overall operation of the airport, Aehle is most excited about the possible construction of a brand new terminal in the next couple years.

“Most people don’t realize this terminal has been here since 1959,” she said. “The terminal is not very convenient for people flying in and out.

“It’s also the gateway to our community, and when newcomers come here and step off the plane, they see this old, not very good looking terminal in the background. We want them to see that this is a progressive city that wants to do business.”

Aehle said Albany needs an efficient terminal that not only serves passengers with the latest passenger conveniences, but also streamlines the security process and “says something about Albany.”

Because the airport is owned by the City of Albany, the city will have to fund about 24 percent of the proposed $15.8 million terminal project, which Aehle hopes voters will approve via a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) 6 referendum if the city chooses to put it on the ballot this November.

“I want to make sure voters continue to vote for SPLOST and realize that it’s not a new tax, but a continuation of the 1 percent sales tax,” said Aehle, who is concerned that there is some misconception among area citizens regarding how SPLOST funds are spent.

For example, she pointed out, UPS, the airport’s largest and most stable vendor, benefited from $1.3 million in SPLOST 5 funding, which provided for the construction of a new UPS facility for which the company signed a 10 year lease.

“Air cargo is a business that will continue to grow as world commerce continues to grow,” said Aehle.

If the voters come through this fall, he remaining 76 percent of the terminal project will be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, she added. Once financing is in place, the terminal could be under construction by next spring, with construction taking about 18 months.

The project plans call for a modern terminal, featuring clean lines, glass and light. “Out with the purple and teal style of the 80s,” she said. “We’re returning to the terrazzo that used to be in here and getting away from the hard to maintain carpet.”

Other improvements the new terminal will offer are bathrooms on the other side of the security checkpoint. The number one complaint Aehle gets is that, once passengers have been through security, they are stuck in the security room without access to bathrooms.

Wi-Fi, centrally located ASA and TSA desks and more convenient rental car concessions are also in the plans. More modern security equipment will be brought in to eliminate the current manual search TSA employees currently perform out in the open on each and every bag.

The new terminal will be built behind the existing building, with the old terminal being demolished following completion of the new project, she said. New short term parking will be created on the site of the current terminal, with more long-term parking added to the current lot.