News 12 at 6 o'clock, November 19, 2007
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Augusta Regional Airport has had its share of bumps. It recently emerged out of a close to ten year slump. But will a little sprucing up be enough to get people flying again? You decide.
Change is on the horizon at Augusta Regional Airport...a new terminal. It is the first in Augusta's history. Some are calling it a move into the 21st century.
"The old airport was World War II barracks that had been just pieced together. So we've never had an actual airport that was built," says chairman of the aviation committee, Cedric Johnson.
Susan Allen says she's flown into the airport at least four times this year. "So far very good...a lot different from last year when a lot of the construction was going on."
Crews of 80 to 100 men and women are busy at work putting the final touches on a project 10 years in the making. Mr. Johnson says, "We have a nice new airport that everybody, not just Augusta, but the whole C-S-R-A can be proud of, and it's something that I'd like to remind people not being payed for by taxpayers money."
An airport trust fund, and general airport revenue covers the 30 million dollar price tag. It's money airport officials call well spent. And get this, there was even room in the budget for everything from an x-ray baggage screener to rocking chairs.
"Oh I love it, I love it. You can put a little space between you and the next person instead of being shoulder to shoulder in the chairs," says traveler Lou Curry.
But not even a little fixing up can overshadow a much bigger problem..."Augusta's airport taking a back seat to what's called E-Z Ride...a van trip to Atlanta with over 800 passengers a month. Owners say this is no competition just an alternative to Augusta's airport."
"We are two streams covering two different areas of the larger spectrum of passengers." says the operation manager. "We feel the same way. They are another option. It depends on really what your time is worth," says airport public relations director, Diane Johnston.
Passengers opt out of a 25 minute flight for a 2 hour drive. The problem is, in September, Atlantic Southeast Airlines posted the worst on time record and one of the highest rates of canceled flights.
"Well someone's gotta be the worst, but the reality is that all the airlines are struggling with this right now, and every airport is having problems with on time departures and with cancellations. It's not just Augusta," says Johnston.
The airline industry's record of delays in 2007 is the worst in 13 years.
But already after years of steady decline, Augusta regional is reporting a 12 percent increase in flights for 2007. And that's not all. Both Delta and U.S. Airways are replacing some of the small turbo planes with 50 passenger regional jets. "As we start seeing increases in passengers boarding out here, we'll see better service, better equipment, and hopefully soon we'll get more destinations."
Here are the numbers...a flight to Chicago from Augusta is cheaper than flying out of Columbia...and to Philadelphia from Augusta it is just $60 more than flying out of Atlanta. Mayor Deke Copenhaver's on board. He took that message to Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin hoping to help put Augusta on the map. "Really just to start a dialog there about potential for Augusta to handle Atlanta's overflow. I know a lot of other cities are talking to her but we wanted to throw our hat in the ring."
Planes come and go every few minutes...9,000 bags of luggage every hour. It's a very busy airport. Not nearly as busy in Augusta but city leaders say there is still something to learn. "Oh yeah, absolutely." Mayor Franklin says she welcomes the dialogue. "Well it is exciting, Augusta is one our sister cities and we're always happy to see you and the mayor."
In that part of the world, the airport is beginning to reach capacity. The city is spending $1 million dollars on a study to find some sort of relief. And now Augusta Regional is on the radar...Bottom-line...."If you haven't looked at Augusta in the past, we think you should look again," says Johnston.
An expected response...But what about Lou and Susan. "It's much better, much better." "I think it's gone be great when it's all done. It's looking good."
The new terminal opens to the public December 9th. As for a partnership between Augusta and Atlanta, it is still in the planning stages. Atlanta says they have at least a year or two to decide what happens next.