Airport authority digging into groundwork for lofty goals

COVINGTON — Huddled around a long folding table in a conference room at the Covington Municipal airport — like a basketball team in preseason practice — was a gathering of five men Wednesday on a mission. Not a flight mission, but something of similar importance to the city and county.

They are members of the Covington Municipal Airport Authority, a seven-member board with a mission statement that envisions the development of “a premier air transportation facility to serve Covington, Newton County and surrounding areas.”

According to airport manager Vince Passariello, part of that mission is to promote the value of the airport and its potential as a regional airport to the community.

“We want the public to be aware of the jewel they have here,” Passariello said.

At the Aug. 18 meeting of the Covington City Council, Passariello and a planning team presented a draft development plan for expanding the airport by 550 acres and converting it into a regional facility.

The proposal would include a complex for aviation-related industries and would serve air traffic from around the country and Canada. The expansion would bring much economic activity to the county and create several thousand jobs, the team said.

But the CMAA is working on more than that, and has been involved in several successful projects.

“We’re a new organization,” said the authority’s chairman, Art Schlueter, who was selected by the CMAA board to that position in April. “And we’re getting started on a lot of necessary work.”

Passariello said the CMAA “in a very short time grabbed the bull by the horns and moved quickly to negotiate a lease with a large tenant.”

The airport houses 20 buildings for hangars, and they are all occupied. Three hangars are owned by businesses, one by the city, 12 by the CMAA and 15 by individual owners.

That number would expand to 20 or 30 more hangars if the facility becomes a regional airport.

The CMAA was established in 2010 by a City Council vote and then an act of the Georgia General Assembly. Each city council member and the mayor makes one appointment to the Airport Authority.

The airport began to take off, so to speak, when the runway was lengthened to 5,500 feet and made deeper.

Passariello realized it then qualified to be designated as a “KCVC” facility, meaning it provides fuller services, such as a weather monitor that sends signals to the Federal Aviation Administration, allowing pilots everywhere to see the weather conditions at the airport.

Passariello praises the work of the board so far: “They’ve done a very good job.”

Other members of the board are Don Smith, vice chairman; Jennifer Mercer, treasurer; Scott Willis, secretary; Ester Fleming; and James Knight.