published Monday, March 21st, 2011

A new airport for Cleveland

Work on the new city airport in Cleveland, Tenn., is still in its early stages, but the Municipal Airport Authority there already is looking forward to the time when the field will be operational. This week, the agency will ask for public input about the terminal area and hangars at the new facility. The effort is not premature. The process should help the authority adhere to a construction schedule that calls for completion of the $40 million-plus project as early as October, 2012.

The cost of the new general aviation airport is largely underwritten by state and federal funds. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to contribute the lion’s share of funding for work at the Tasso site. The Tennessee Aeronautics Commission of the Tennessee Department of Transportation will provide funds as well. The remainder of construction funds will come from the city of Cleveland and private sources.

The city’s share of funding is unlikely to be a direct burden on Cleveland taxpayers. The city is required to sell the 105-acre Hardwick Field, Cleveland’s current airport, and proceeds from that sale, says Lynn DeVault, chairman of the authority, should cover the city’s share of construction costs. Residents of the city, no doubt, are quite happy that is the case.

The authority will send out a survey this week asking those who currently use the Cleveland airport for suggestions about a new terminal and other structures. The survey also will be go to pilots and airplane and hangar owners in Chattanooga and the surrounding area who might want to use the new facility. The authority wants to hear from them before moving forward with such construction. The information gathered should prove instructive.

The new airport will be a general aviation airport that will be large enough, DeVault says, to handle just about any plane used by a corporation. That’s the sort of business the airport seeks. It will not be a facility where commercial passenger service will be available. It won’t compete with the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport for passengers, DeVault says. Rather it will serve the same sort of clientele that airports in Athens and Collegedale provide.

That is a growing market, according to aviation experts. Cleveland, now in the top 15 in size in Tennessee, is a community ideally suited for a general aviation facility. It has a strong and expanding base of companies — Whirlpool, Wacker, Amazon, and Jones Management, among them — that have their own fleets. That provides a solid base of users for the new airport.

The new facility should attract additional clients. DeVault says there are nearly 100 planes currently registered to Bradley County residents for mostly corporate use, but most are based outside Cleveland because the current runway is too short. Many charter flights are unable to land in Cleveland now for the same reason. The new facility should resolve that problem.

Workers at the Tasso site spent a lot of time on the initial phase of construction in redirecting a creek. Now they are moving masses of dirt. “We have enough dirt on site,” DeVault says, “but getting it in the right place is time consuming.” Next comes paving, a task that should move quickly. Airport planners want to start construction of the terminal and other facilities as soon as paving is finished. Planning now should expedite the process.

The new airport will most directly benefit Cleveland and Bradley County, but it also will serve a larger purpose. It will become part of the growing transportation infrastructure that makes the region attractive to the new industry and businesses vital to the continued growth and prosperity of the area.

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