Officials may conduct an online auction for rights to the first departure and landing at Cleveland Regional Jetport.
Location: Dry Valley Road NE
Cost: $40 million
Runway: 5,500 feet long
Terminal: 8,000 square feet
Fuel farm: 12,000 gallons
FAA identifier: RZR
Source: Cleveland Regional Jetport
Job: Cleveland Regional Jetport operations director
Born: West Virginia
Education: West Virginia University, aviation management
Career: FedEx pilot, manager Fayette County, Tenn., Airport
CLEVELAND, Tenn. - When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam flies here on the state's King Air plane, he and his party can land at Hardwick Field but can't take off because of its short runway, officials say.
The plane has to depart Cleveland without him and fly to Chattanooga Airport, where the governor is taken by car so he and his group can board the aircraft and return to Nashville, they say.
"It doesn't fit good with a progressive city," said Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland about Hardwick, which he terms "the worst, unsafest" airport in the state.
But come January, that's ending as the city is slated to open the new $40 million Cleveland Regional Jetport that will replace aging and landlocked Hardwick Field.
Officials said the jetport will bolster efforts to woo new business to the Cleveland area and help drive job growth.
"It absolutely enhances your posture as a location ready for economic development," said Mark Fidler, the new airport's operations director. "It's used as a welcome mat."
The city-owned jetport is designed to handle private and corporate aircraft, rather than scheduled passenger flights such as those flying in and out of Chattanooga.
The opening of new airports, commercial or general aviation, is rare in the United States.
This year, just one general aviation airport opened nationwide -- Rooks County Regional Airport five miles south of Stockton, Kan., said Kathleen Bergen, a Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman.
The Cleveland jetport's 5,500-foot-long runway will have the capacity to handle 85 percent of general aviation aircraft, said Fidler. Hardwick's landing strip is just 3,100 feet long and likely able to accommodate fewer than half of corporate planes, he said.
Lengthening Hardwick's runway would have been expensive and displaced nearby homes, Fidler said.
The new airport's two-level, 8,000-square-foot terminal building has four conference rooms and is designed for people to gather to do business, Fidler said.
It includes a large, second-level conference room with picturesque views overlooking the air field. The room, equipped with a kitchen and high-tech audio-visual hookups, is an all-encompassing facility, said Fidler.
"I like to think there will be a lot of business deals inked in this room," he said.
Stephen Carroll of Rardin & Carroll, the Chattanooga firm that designed the $1.7 million terminal, said the big conference room will permit executives to fly in and hold meetings there without having to travel elsewhere by car to talk.
"The idea is how you accommodate a major corporate ... meeting," he said. "That's the whole intent of building that."
Hardwick is expected to be closed by mid-2013, said Fidler. The property is to be sold with the proceeds to pay off some of the debt incurred by the new facility, the airport chief said.
Rowland said Cleveland put up about 10 percent of the city-owned airport's cost with the rest coming from the state via the federal government.
The mayor agreed that the jetport will help to recruit business to the city. He said when Hardwick's landing strip gets wet, larger aircraft have a problem landing and taking off.
"That's bad for industry," he said.
Rowland said that when business prospects come to the state looking at where they might put a facility, Bradley County never hears from those people if air service is a key factor.
"We hear Bradley County gets turned down because of inadequate service," he said.
The jetport also expects to compete for general aviation aircraft stationed at Chattanooga Airport and other nearby facilities. The new airport will hold its own 12,000-gallon fuel farm, and it will build new hangars to accommodate aircraft, Fidler said.
He said, for example, that the jetport already is talking with Cleveland businessman Allan Jones, who currently uses Chattanooga.
A storage and maintenance hangar is under construction, and a fixed-base operator, Crystal Aviation, will provide fueling and repair work on aircraft, Fidler said.
Inside the stone- and wood-toned terminal, there will be space for a rental car office as well as a flight school, he said.
Fidler said an innovative interior heating and cooling system has 16 zones for controllability and economy. There's also a pilots lounge with computers and "quiet rooms" where they can wait in privacy, he said.
Outside, the runway is made of stronger and longer-lasting concrete rather than asphalt, and bright LED lighting will be used on the landing strip, Fidler said.
He expects the number landings and takeoffs to hit about 50 a day on average at the jetport. That's up from about 30 a day at Hardwick, according to the FAA.
Rowland said he's excited about the airport's upcoming opening.
"It's almost unbelievable to me," he said. "This brings us into the modern world."