Feb. 19, 2004 - Georgia state representatives this week approved a bill (House Bill 886) sponsored by House Speaker Terry Coleman (D-Dist. 118) to ensure that public-use airports remain open. One of Coleman's allies, Rep. Don Wix (D-Dist. 33), contacted AOPA early for guidance in drafting the legislation.
The bill would require the sponsor of a public-use airport, whether publicly or privately owned, to maintain the facility in a "safe and serviceable condition to serve aeronautical users" and take no actions that would close or render the airport unusable for 20 years from the date of the most recent financial assistance.
"This bill will give Georgia pilots some of the strongest guarantees in the country that they'll have places to land in the years to come," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "If enacted, it will make it almost impossible for an airport sponsor to close an airport on a whim."
Sponsors trying to close a grant-obligated airport would be required to hold a public hearing and give 30-days' notice of the hearing. And if, after all that, the sponsor decided to go ahead with the closure, it could do so no sooner that 90 days after posting the decision.
At the same time, the bill includes large financial disincentives to close the airport, including repaying all financial assistance. If the money was used to purchase land for the airport, the sponsor would be required to pay the current market value of the land or the full value of the grant, whichever is more.
At AOPA's suggestion, the bill includes 20-year grant obligations, similar to those required by the FAA, for any airport accepting financial assistance from the state. Financial assistance includes everything from money to services and equipment.
"We are very appreciative of Representatives Coleman, Channell, Parish, and Morris for sponsoring the legislation that was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives," said AOPA Vice President of Regional Affairs Roger Cohen. "We need to make sure it now is approved by the state senate and signed into law."