Over the last few weeks, there have been a lot of statements made in public and online regarding a 2004 video where I discussed the future of commercial and general aviation services at Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. Many of these statements have no truth to them, and some have actually been very hurtful to me and my family. I want to take a moment to set the record straight on not only this video, but the entire process regarding the development of Silver Comet Field.
The video is from a 2004 Paulding Chamber of Commerce event where I spoke about the future of the airport. At that meeting, I said that commercial airlines were not part of the plans for this airport. At the time, general aviation, which includes activities such as private flights and pilot training, was a booming business. I and my fellow Airport Authority members felt that the airport would be more successful pursuing this strategy.
But times have certainly changed, and the recession has impacted the aviation industry in significant ways.
A 2012 report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Federal Aviation Administration showed a 20% decrease in general aviation jobs and a 21% decrease in general aviation’s total economic impact between 2008 and 2009. There was also a significant decreasing trend in the active pilot population, along with steady decreases in general aviation hours and towered operations.
The recession was taking its toll on the general aviation industry and, in turn, our plans for the future of the airport. Needless to say, the Airport Authority, tasked with ensuring that this $50 million asset is utilized to best meet the growing needs of our community, did what any responsible business would do and started to look into other avenues for the future sustainment and growth of the facility.
The decision to seek a partner to develop the airport, to include the standard MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and possible commercial services, was not made lightly or in secret. The facts are that substantial economic development opportunities like this don’t come along often, and we worked with Silver Comet Terminal Partners in an expeditious, open manner so as to not lose this opportunity to a neighboring county.
However, accusations have persisted that the Authority, in supposed cahoots with the County Commission, held secret meetings and violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, and/or that members of both the Authority and Commission have accepted payments from outside groups. As a devout Christian, not to mention a man who has spent the last 10-plus years trying to make this community the best it can be for our children and grandchildren, I am personally offended by these meritless accusations.
During my 12-year tenure as chairman of the Airport Authority, we have always conducted all business completely above board. With regards to the development now occurring at the airport, many aspects of the process were discussed openly at public meetings of the Authority beginning October 2012, which were attended by members of the community and, on occasion, news media. Additionally, various aspects regarding the commercialization of the airport, including approvals for taxiway widening and the purchase of firefighting equipment specifically designed for commercial usage, were discussed and voted on in open sessions of either the Airport Authority or County Commission. I might add all commissioners of the County Commission voted.
As for the baseless remarks that our pockets are being lined in order to push this project through, let me say this: if I wanted to make money off the development of this airport, I could have done so many times over through my company, Thompson Grading. However, I have always elected not to bid on grading contracts, involving millions of yards of dirt, surrounding this development. Even though, legally, my business could have pursued these opportunities, I wanted to keep things above reproach and avoid any perception of collusion. In spite of the fact that we, like so many other companies, have experienced some tough times during the recession, we have continued to abstain from bidding on airport contracts.
Every decision that the Airport Authority has made over the years, including those to go after general aviation and now commercial aviation, have always been made with the best interests for the future of this county in mind.
I understand that there are some folks who are against the commercial flights at the airport. However, the reasons they cite to be against this important development, such as a deal born in secrecy, aircraft buzzing rooftops, increased traffic, environmental concerns, etc., have no basis in fact. I encourage you to read the Paulding Airport Myth vs. Fact document that has been widely distributed for a clear understanding of the issue and not to believe everything you read on the web.