Thomasville Regional Airport
An aviation gem in central Georgia
As COVID is slowly taking its rightful place in our rearview mirrors, the aviation industry is able to make up for lost time. Pilots are back in the cockpits across the nation and the numbers of travelers are up to levels that can almost give 2019 numbers a run for their money. Pivoting to meet increased traveling demands, Thomasville Regional Airport is taking flight with a host of infrastructure projects on the horizon. With an eye to the needs of the town of Thomasville and the customers it serves, Thomasville Regional Airport is utilizing both FAA and state funding to ensure that it provides the very best airport improvements.
Thomasville Regional Airport is situated on 1,301 acres of land and has two asphalt paved runways, 4/22 is 5,496 by 100 feet while 14/32 is 5,000 by 100 feet.
“We are considered a regional airport,” says Robert Petty, Airport Manager, “We are nestled in between Tallahassee, Albany, and Valdosta, all of whom provide commercial service so we’re kind of unique in that we get to have this regional airport that has about 52 planes based here. Most of them are general aviation, but some are corporate jets for Waffle House, Ag-Pro, which is the largest John Deere dealer in the country, Checkmate, a weapon magazine, and medical equipment manufacturer, and Flowers Foods which is the second-largest bakery in the country.”
“These are organizations on the field or adjacent to it in the industrial park. There is also a trailer manufacturing facility, Turner Furniture, and other businesses that are just down the road and operate corporate aircraft here at the airport. We have several jet operations at the airfield, but I think we strike a very good balance between the light general aviation community and corporate operators – I think what we try to do is maintain that balance and try to grow both segments of the market.”
Originally a World War II Army airfield, Thomasville Regional Airport has a rich history. The airfield was an advanced fighter training field from 1942 – 1945. Planes such as the Bell P-39 Aircobra, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, and the P-51 Mustang were based here. After the war, the airfield was passed over to civic operation.
In 2006 the airport renovated the terminal, giving it a modern “plantation” theme, and propelling them forward into an era of growth. The most recent project is a runway line of sight project. The airport was originally constructed during World War Two and the original 4000-foot runway, as well as subsequent expansions, have followed the contours of the land. “As you’re aware,” Petty interjects, “the FAA is certainly interested in being able to see from one end of the runway to the other end and unfortunately, we have a negative incline on runway 22 so the FAA is providing us with the opportunity to raise the elevation of the runway and eliminate the line-of-sight issue. Another safety issue that we have worked on is that we used to have taxiways that entered directly onto the active runway from the apron. Now, after eliminating a couple taxiway connectors, planes must enter and exit the runway with a turn to the apron.”
He goes on to explain that since the airport falls under the Engineering Department of the city, they are responsible for much of the projects development. They also try and consult with entities already on the field and work together on hangar development and other renovations that would benefit everyone.
“Some of the other projects we are currently working on include a runway lighting project which now has much of the environmental impact planning complete and will go into the design phase,” he continues, “Then we have what we call the Southwest Development Area which is an apron area that we’re going to build a hangar complex on. We are effectively tapped out in terms of building space or rather edge of the existing apron space to build additional hangers – this will open a lot of new development. The FAA is paying for the apron while the city takes care of utilities and a community hangar. The rest of the apron we will open for ground leases on which operators at the airport can have the opportunity to build their own hangar. Smaller upcoming projects include an updated main gate and more security fencing.”
Known as Georgia’s Rose City, they showcase over 1,500 blooms in the Thomasville Rose Garden while holding a festival every spring to celebrate the flower. The Rose Show & Festival has been a southwest Georgia tradition since 1922. Then there is the Big Oak, a live oak tree that is more than 327 years old, the Jack Hadley Black History Museum, and the Taste of Thomasville Food Tour. But the main tourist draw for the region is quail hunting. More than 70 historic plantations cater to the sport, either privately, as private clubs, or publicly. From mid-November to February ends up being the airport’s busiest time of year because that is quail season. The plantations are a major source of economic and tax revenue for the city and as such, this becomes a large focus of the airport.
“That makes us a really large economic driver as well,” explains Petty. “We have considerable traffic during those months and if you add to that the fact that so many corporations have begun to use the airport, in fact, proximity to the airport was the main drawing card for a couple of companies bringing their business here.”
The airport hosts events now and again that bring people out to see the place. There is an aviation engine museum on site, which houses several different types of aircraft engines as well as two biplanes. It is always a big draw. The Thomasville flying club holds an annual event at the airport that brings in about 1500 people. This year was the 55th annual Thomasville Fly-In, which has always been scheduled on the second weekend of October, and that is also a real boon to the town economy as most stay the weekend.
Where many airports saw the last few years as a struggle, Thomasville has continued to see roughly a 15% percent increase in fuel sales and growing operations. In 2028 there are plans to acquire land at the end of Runway 4 allowing them to lengthen the safety zone, opening the runway’s capability to the full 6004 feet. “Right now, we can only use 5500 feet,” Petty explains, “there’s a plan to purchase the properties at the end and clear them, creating a new safety zone which extends far enough out to enable us to use the full runway.”
What exactly is on the horizon for Thomasville Airport as we look towards a new year just around the corner?
“Once we get past some of the safety required projects that we have to do namely the line-of-sight issue,” Petty continues, “and to remove some of the trees on the private property that we’d like to acquire in the future – The long-range plan is to expand the apron area in the southwest development area to build additional hangars and allow more corporate operators and others to come into the airport and utilize its resources. As a local government-owned and operated full-service FBO and airport, we are unique in the area, and with our resources we can bring in both corporate operators and the light general aviation community, which we’ve been able to integrate them well together in a balanced and harmonious operation. I think a lot of people are seeing the benefits of smaller airports and I think because of that we will continue to grow.
AT A GLANCE
Thomasville Regional Airport
WHAT: A growing general aviation and corporate airport serving a historic quail-hunting region.
WHERE: Thomasville, County Seat of Thomas County, Georgia
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