Savannah-Hardin County Airport (SNH)
Primed for Growth
Business View Magazine interviews Derick Seaton, Manager at Savannah-Hardin County Airport, for our focus on Regional Airports in the U.S.
The City of Savannah is sitting pretty, just 100 miles east of Memphis in scenic Southwest Tennessee. The county seat of Hardin County, Savannah is a historic river town in a region well known for its multiple attractions and activities. Whether for business or pleasure, the Savannah-Hardin County Airport (SNH) is a key economic asset that offers ease and convenience for people flying people in and out of the area.
Derick Seaton, Manager at Savannah-Hardin County Airport, reports, “We’re ideally situated in the tri-state region of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. From an economic standpoint, we’re heavy in agriculture and timber. It’s a rural community, the joint population of the City of Savannah and Hardin County is about 25,000. The big tourist draws for our area are Shiloh National Military Park and our Pickwick Lake resort area. We’re big into fishing tournaments – mostly bass, and we claim to be the Catfish Capital of the World. It’s primarily outdoor recreation that brings people in.”
The airport was established in the early 1960s and is currently owned and operated by the seven-member Savannah-Hardin County Airport Commission, and supported and subsidized by the city and county. SNH is a general aviation facility with one concrete runway (5000 x 1000 ft), which was recently upgraded to 7.5 inches of solid concrete with a 30-inch solid base, increasing the weight limit to 65,000 lb aircraft, so the airport is now able to accommodate large corporate jets. Company executives often fly in to spend the week conducting business in Savannah and Hardin County.
The runway revamp was a significant undertaking that was completed in December 2020. Seaton explains, “We used A2H-Consulting Engineers (Project Lead), RC Construction (Prime Contractor), and EUTAW Electric (Airfield Lighting Contractor) for re-engineering & replacing the former runway / apron. They were all great to work with and did a fantastic job. The project included a new sub-base foundation with 12,000 cubic yards of concrete, and over 220 new “Pilot Controlled” LED runway / taxiway lights & airfield signage. There was a little “schedule creep” due to unforeseen existing electrical & foundation issues, however, we received a quality product, accomplished it safely, and came in under budget.”
While not large, the fully-outfitted terminal building is another airport asset, offering a pilots’ lounge, a general seating area, small conference room… all the necessities. Also onsite is a 100 x 100 community hangar used for transient jets and other aircraft that has a banquet or meeting room with a small kitchen that is available for small gatherings or office space.
The airport sees about 3500 activities per year; about 50 percent general aviation – owners of small private planes – and there is a good amount of student flight activity, thanks to the GPS Rnav (aRea NAVigation) approach. “They love our open area to be able to fly in here, it’s great for student training,” says Seaton. “There are several flight schools in the surrounding area that come in but one of my initiatives is to either have a flight training school open here or I’d like to have an Airframe and Power Plant (A&P) technical school for aircraft maintenance.”
SNH is primed for expansion and growth. The airport owns 325 acres with about 10 acres that are shovel ready to start building additional facilities right away, and probably 25 acres that could eventually be developed if someone came in and wanted to build. Regional airports always have a need for more hangar space and Savannah-Hardin County is no exception. Currently, they have 16 T-hangars for small aircraft – all are full and there is a waiting list. There are also two 60 x 60 ft corporate hangars that are occupied at the moment but could be available to open up if a business wanted to come in.
In addition, there is a 100 x 100 ft hangar that is occupied by TT Aerotech. According to Seaton, “They do primarily avionics maintenance and upgrades and they are a Garmin certified dealer. They also offer minor aircraft repair and general aviation inspections. They are a great tenant to have here on the airfield and have an excellent reputation.”
Seaton is retired after 23 years in the Air Force and has been all over the world, but he claims that Tennessee has one of the strongest general aviation type airport systems he’s seen. Especially in the southeast U.S. He notes, “We get great support from the State and locally we are promoted and strongly supported by the city and the county and the general public. Not all of them understand what we provide, but in the business world, if you don’t have an airport, you’re not going to expand. That’s one of the primary things that our government understands.”
The Hardin County Tourism & Convention Bureau, the Savannah Industrial Development Center, the Chamber of Commerce, and the airport all work together. “From the airport standpoint, we are here to support everything that the city and county are promoting,” says Seaton.
“Tourism is an important component of economic development in Hardin County’s rural economy,” adds Tourism and Marketing Director Beth Pippin. “Tennessee Department of Tourist Development states that visitors spent $31.81M in Hardin County in 2020 – ranking us 39 of 95 counties in visitor spending. Although it is unlikely that aero-tourism ranks high on our scale, it does have the potential to play a supporting role especially with our outdoor tourism draws of the lake, river, fishing, then with our heritage tourism of Shiloh National Military Park. Our convention and visitors bureau partners with the local airport on their annual Open House Fly-In to promote the amenities of the airport and to promote local attractions and events. We also pitch in to offer hospitality bags for pilots, industry and real estate guests that may fly in for business.”
The Open House Fly-In is a very popular event. Seaton notes, “We have aerial demonstrations… I call it community outreach to let people, especially the rural community, know what their airport is doing. We give a couple tours a month for elementary schools, high schools, recently I did one with Assisted Living residents. We also do them for government and West Tennessee leadership classes that come in to see what different counties around Tennessee are doing and what we offer.”
Promoting aviation as a career is so important these days, given the shortage of skilled people in the industry. As Seaton attests, “There are so many great opportunities, not just in the military but in all aspects of aviation. We’re short of pilots, we’re short of maintainers, and everything that evolves around the aviation world. It’s not as glamorous as it used to be back in the ‘70s, but if we can change the thoughts of one young lady or gentleman about a career, that’s all I’m trying to do.”
Call it a stroke of luck, but the runway construction project took place right in the middle of COVID. The pandemic hit in April and May of 2020, the project broke ground in June, and the airport was shut down for six months. “Perfect timing,” says Seaton. “Even if COVID hadn’t happened, I would have had to turn away traffic at the time, so it worked out well.” In addition to the runway project, itself, the airport brought in all new LED lighting, security lighting was enhanced and security cameras were upgraded. Also, the “rather poor” internet and telephone service was switched to high-speed fiber wireless – a substantial improvement.
Looking to the future, Seaton shares his top goals: “Maintaining a safe and effective airport like we already have, supporting the growth of general aviation. I would really like to see some type of educational program or school here for our residents and the surrounding area to support aviation as a career. From an airport manager’s standpoint, what I’ve been struggling with is to have the property ready for industry that would like to move to the area. I work with our local economic development team, with West Tennessee Economic Development, and the State Economic Development office to promote what we have available in Hardin County, and then have the airport here ready to support that. It’s out of my hands, what industry we’d like to move to the area, but from an aviation perspective I would like to see a regional hub for major delivery services to use this as a staging area or an aviation hub.”
AT A GLANCE
Savannah-Hardin County Airport
What: A growing general aviation airport
Where: Savannah, part of Hardin County, Tennessee
R.C. Construction Co., Inc. – www.rcconst.net
RC specializes in concrete pavement at military and commercial/general aviation airfields and owns three portable concrete plants, three slipform pavers and support equipment. RC possesses 40+ years’ experience and expertise in heavy civil horizontal construction, executing several million square yards of airfield pavements, including underground utilities and electrical installations; RC has completed several design-builds for USACE.