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Plan shown to City Council would create a Covington regional airport

COVINGTON — At its Monday night meeting, the Covington City Council got a glimpse of what a Covington regional airport could look like.

A planning group presented development ideas and maps that, if adopted, would convert the city’s airport into a major regional hub.

The proposal, still in draft form and titled, “Proposed Airport Master Plan,” would turn the current airport into a bustling complex serving the aviation industry and air traffic to and from cities throughout the United States and Canada.

Covington owns 450 acres surrounding the current airport, and another 100 acres are expected to be available for the expansion.

“Not too many communities have this opportunity,” said David Bernd, director of Commercial Development for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

Bernd told council members that Covington is situated two hours or less from 80 percent of the U.S. business market and 59 percent of Canada’s.

“No airport in the nation has this much acreage for expansion and access to six-and-a-half million people within a 90-minute drive,” Bernd said.

The regional airport would service private business jets and possibly small cargo planes, but no commercial airlines would be involved.

Bernd and Vincent Passariello, the Covington Airport manager, diplayed slides, including a map of the proposed airport.

Ralph Forbes, vice president of Thomas & Hutton in Savannah, explained that land uses on the airport premises would include a “hangar farm,” aviation manufacturing businesses and aviation research and development firms.

“There is no other state with so many aviation schools in the area,” Passariello told the council, indicating why aviation industries would want to relocate at the new airport.

Forbes estimated the expansion would deliver from 2,000 to 5,000 new jobs to the city and county.

One slide displayed a concept for a new terminal, which would fit in with Covington’s historical architecture. The terminal would encompass 10,000 square feet, larger than Augusta’s airport.

Charter companies and bigger companies began flying into the current airport after federal funds allowed Passariello to lengthen the runaway and deepen it to handle more weight. He also got the airport designated as a “KCVC” facility, meaning it provides fuller services than it previously did.

Celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington have used the airport.

“You know they’re there when the long black limousines show up,” Passariello said after the meeting.

Covington originally was designated as a site for one of Georgia’s regional airports in then-Gov. Zell Miller’s transportation plan.

Conceptual planning by Bernd and the others began in January, and in May the City Council requested a master plan presentation, leading to Monday’s discussion.

“The biggest thing is we are not drastically increasing the air traffic and there would be no commercial airplanes,” Bernd told the Citizen.

“We’re very cognizant of the concerns of the citizens of Oxford, and we want peace with our neighbors.”

The next step for the planners is to finish infrastructure work such as sewer, water, gas and electric lines and complete requirements such as an environmental study.

“Then we would establish a marketing package and go out and sell it,” Bernd told the Citizen.