The Heart of Georgia Regional Airport
Unique and growing
Business View Magazine interviews Jeff Fordham, Airport Manager of the Heart of Georgia Regional Airport, as part of our series on regional American airports.
The Heart of Georgia Regional Airport is located three miles east of Eastman in South Central Georgia, and services general aviation air traffic from all over the southeast United States. The Airport was originally built by the Stuckey’s Corporation to support its own business operations. “Mr. W.S. Stuckey, who started the candy company here in Eastman, Georgia, selling pecan log rolls by the side of the road, kept expanding and started putting stores all up and down the interstate,” explains Airport Manager, Jeff Fordham. “They had a Piper Aztec and their airstrip was not long enough, so they came out here and built the Airport.”
When the facility was officially dedicated in December 1966, then Governor Carl Sanders hailed the $232,000 Eastman-Dodge County Airport as “the first community airport in Georgia that we have built specifically to accommodate the modern business jet airplanes that are becoming so important in one industry after another.” Today, the Airport is owned and operated by Heart of Georgia Regional Airport Authority. Its original 4,500-ft. runway was lengthened to 6,506 feet in 2004, and equipped with a precision instrument landing system and a landing capacity of 100,000 pounds. A new terminal and tower were completed in 2005. The Airport supports between 300-400 operations per day, comprised of general aviation, corporate, military, flight training, customs and border patrol, air ambulance, and aerial agricultural traffic, making it the 5th busiest take-off and landing airport in the state.
Over the last several years, the Heart of Georgia Regional Airport has also become a major aviation education presence in the Southeast. It is home to Middle Georgia State University’s Aviation Center – Georgia’s only state-supported aviation center – which trains pilots and airport and airline management majors, while giving airframe and power plant students the skills required to build and maintain aviation assets. In 2007, the school’s Air Traffic Control Management program was named the top new ATC program in the nation by the FAA.
The Airport is also home to several aviation manufacturing and maintenance firms. Eastman Aircraft Company provides aircraft maintenance services; KENCOA Aerospace LLC is a premier Tier-1 supplier of multi-axis precision machined and sheet metal fabricated aerostructures, jet engine components, and major assemblies for commercial, military, and business/regional jets, worldwide; Heart of Georgia Metal Crafters is a full service fabrication shop for the aviation and commercial industries; AREMAC Heat Treating East, LLC, is a nationally recognized heat treatment company; and Dynamic Paint Solutions is a full-service metal finishing company for the aerospace industry. Machining, heat treatment, and finish coating, located next door to each other on the same airport – a unique capacity that isn’t repeated anywhere in the country – means a much faster turnaround for parts manufacturing and final delivery to companies such as Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed-Martin, Gulfstream, and Sikorsky.
All of this activity means that the Heart of Georgia Regional Airport plays a vital role in supporting the region with 376 jobs with an annual payroll of $14,700,000, and $37,169,000 in economic output for the local and regional economies.
As airport traffic continues to grow, Fordham says that he would like to see more hangars built by private developers – as opposed to the county footing the bill. “We have 18 hangars and they’re all full. We’ve got a lot of land. I think there’s a couple of hundred acres, at least, that’s available to develop with more to be obtained if we need it,” he notes. “I’m trying to put in a taxi lane into an area where I’m hoping some businesses will come in and build their own hangars so that we don’t have any finances associated with it; we’ll just lease them the land. I think it’s better if people build their own hangars.”
Other potential projects include expanding the Airport’s aprons to make room for more aircraft “Sometimes the military helicopters, mostly Blackhawks on their way to Fort Benning, come in eight or ten at a time and we just close the taxiway to accommodate them all,” Fordham says. “We’re also going to have pavement rehabilitation; we’re going to replace the lighted windsocks with the latest technology; and some signs on the airfield have to be upgraded. We’ve got a control tower that’s unique here, because it’s staffed by the college, and they’re only open 8 to 4, every day, and 8 to 12 on Saturdays. I’d like to get that tower under FAA control to be a contract tower.”
Meanwhile, Fordham says that he and his staff of five try to economize wherever possible. “We cut our own grass; keep up our own lights; we do pretty much everything ourselves, to try and save money, because we don’t have a lot,” he opines. “We’ve been very fortunate here in the last few years to increase our traffic and the Airport has the fuel farm, so we get revenue from the fuel sales. That and the hangar rents are the only income we have.”
“We’re kind of a unique airport because we started out as just a rural airport with one hangar that catered to the Stuckey’s people,” says Fordham in conclusion. “Now, we’re probably one of the busiest general aviation airports in Georgia.”
And Stuckey’s still has over 115 franchise stores in 17 states.
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: The Heart of Georgia Regional Airport
WHAT: A general aviation airport
WHERE: Three miles east of the town of Eastman in South Central Georgia