June 1, 2005
Developers in Georgia want to close Pine Mountain's Callaway Gardens-Harris County Airport (PIM) to build a five-story hotel addition to the existing Callaway Gardens resort. But AOPA has told county commissioners that they would be in legal trouble with the federal government and would be destroying a valuable community asset if they cave in to the request.
"What makes the Callaway Foundation proposal to close PIM almost surreal is that dozens of other communities, particularly those reliant on tourism, are literally competing to attract an 'on site' airport," said Roger Cohen, AOPA vice president of regional affairs. "For the county to consider destroying a 5,000-foot runway literally within three-wood distance of a world-class golf resort defies all economic logic."
It also would expose the county to federal action. That's because the county has accepted federal grants to improve the publicly owned airport. PIM is also a protected airport under the congressionally approved National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS).
In his letter to the Harris County commissioners, AOPA's Cohen also challenged distortions of the facts concerning the airport.
"The Callaway Foundation severely underestimated and misrepresented by a factor greater than 700 percent the number of annual operations at the airport," Cohen wrote. And while the developers told the county that they could repay the federal grants, AOPA set the record straight. "Federal grants to airports are not 'loans' that can be repaid," Cohen said. "When a sponsor accepts these taxpayer funds, generated by the users of airports like Pine Mountain, the sponsor is also accepting the requisite obligations, which include keeping the airport open.
"Repaying the money is not an option," Cohen said. "The FAA has never allowed any sponsor or entity to repay grant money with the sole intent of closing an airport."
And he told the commissioners to examine the plus side of the economic ledger. "Consider just the existing marketing potential the airport represents in a county of some 25,000 residents," he said. "PIM lies right in the middle of more than 50,000 AOPA-member pilots in Georgia and two neighboring states. Many of those members play golf. All of them want to fly their airplanes as close as possible to where they live, recreate, and visit. They want to fly to an airport - one just like PIM."
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