An afternoon at the airport

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Cullman Regional Airport hosted the public on Wednesday, showcasing the airport and sharing future plans. / Nick Griffin

W.C. Mann also contributed to this report.

VINEMONT – Cullman Regional Airport hosted "An Aviation Afternoon at the Airport" Wednesday to showcase the airport and share plans for some upcoming additions.

The airport provides many services to the Cullman area.  It is equipped to handle a large variety of aircraft, from corporate jets and turboprops to industry needing cargo brought in and shipped out. It also caters to private pilots and aviation enthusiasts of all kinds. The airport serves local businesses’ personnel and cargo transport needs and hosts the Wallace State Community College Aviation program, Skydive Alabama, Air Evac Lifeteam, Alabama State Troopers and the Cullman City Police Department.

General Manager Ben Harrison shared his thoughts on the airport’s role in the community.

“We're the airport of the community, so what the airport does is it drives an economic development factor in the community. We host companies that are coming in to do economic development within the community," Harrison said. "We also have industries here like Air Evac, the State Troopers, the police department and Skydive Alabama, so do we have a driver of business here at the airport."

Wednesday’s event highlighted the recently completed south taxiway and plans for the north taxiway. In July, the Cullman City Council passed three resolutions to make improvements at the airport.  Two of the three authorized the first phase of a two-year project to improve the airport’s taxiway, while the third set the stage for continuation and completion of the project in 2018.

“Phase one is basically going to be directly in front of the terminal.  We’ve got some issues where our connector between the apron and taxiway are not large enough, so we’re going to reconstruct that connector, and then reconstruct the base of the taxiway to hold up larger aircraft,” said Harrison at the time. “We have a runway that will hold a heavier aircraft, we have an apron that will hold a heavier aircraft; we just have to get the taxiway connected to them.”

The scope of the project is large enough to be carried out in two parts, based on the fiscal calendar.

Harrison continued in July, “So, the way it’s going to have to go, with the length of the taxiway, it’s going to be a two-phase project.  Phase two will be the next fiscal year: wherever we leave off with phase one, we’ll just pick up with phase two.” On Wednesday, Harrison shared, "The north taxiway is going to be the next project, it's going to be a two-phase project because of what all is going to have to go into that to make it a structurally sound project. So once we get the north taxiway done then we'll start on the runway. We still have an extension in the plan but we had to push that out a bit further to get some of this other stuff done."

This year’s project builds upon another recently-completed project on the south taxiway.

“The south taxiway is totally complete,” Harrison told The Tribune at the council meeting. “That project was finished up this year.  Then the north taxiway has to be brought up to speed, as well.”

In its entirety, the project does not mean an expansion of the airport’s runways and taxiways, but an equalization of the quality and capabilities of all existing paved surfaces for aircraft.  The resolutions passed by the council awarded a bid for phase one to Wiregrass Construction Company in the amount of $512,685.41, and approved Mayor Woody Jacobs to enter into a grant agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration for the project.  Under the grant terms, the City and County will only have to pay five percent of that cost.  The council also approved a proposal to apply for additional funding for next year’s phase two.

Harrison shared at Wednesday’s event, “We are an economic development driver for the city of Cullman and for all of Cullman County.  We don’t do economic development, but we host the companies that are coming in, that are doing economic development here.  I would say, pretty much all the large industry, at some point in time, always has someone coming into the airport several times per year, whether it be executives, whether it be air cargo that they need, whether it be people coming in to do business with them.  So, constantly, we have someone coming in that deals with all the local major suppliers.”

Harrison also talked about some of the partnerships the airport is involved with that he feels have been mutually beneficial for them and the community.

"One of the other industries we have here is Air Evac; we have (the) Air Evac base here which is if anyone is an Air Evac member this is the base helicopter that will come get you in the event of an accident or an emergency. We also have their southeast regional MRO facility so that is the maintenance and repair facility for all the aircraft in the region so that has been an excellent partnership for us as well. We hope to capitalize on that and even help them expand."

Thanks to several business services the airport provides as well as attractions like Skydive Alabama, Harrison says he can see the interest in the airport growing both economically and recreationally.

"We've definitely seen an increase in traffic and involvement from last year to this year and every year we seem to be doing a little bit better. That’s the goal is to keep driving it and moving it forward."

The facility even has its own restaurant, The Prop, open for breakfast and lunch Thursdays through Sundays.

Find out more at www.cullmanregionalairport.org.

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