LeTourneau Field: Retiring airport manager discusses ambitious 5-year Capital Improvement Plan

The Toccoa Airport is waiting for word on federal funding for more than $750,000 in projects for the coming fiscal year, and will be welcoming a new airport manager today, Feb. 24.


R.G. LeTourneau Field is hoping for clear skies ahead as they embark on a five-year plan of necessary upgrades and hoped-for expansion. Those plans, however, are not without potential hurdles – not the least of which is securing federal and state funding in a year of rumored budget cuts.


ConnectLocal.News sat down with Will Cox last Friday, on what was essentially his last day as airport manager before his retirement this week, to talk about his five-year tenure, the struggles the airport has overcome, and the framework for the future that he is handing over to new airport manager Brian Boyd.


“When I got here five years ago, we were in the middle of a Part 13 Complaint against us, claiming we were discriminating against one of our tenants. That was a long process that took four years, and we were found not to be doing anything wrong, but as a result, during the investigation, we were not funded for a few years,” Cox said. “We also had a (Federal Aviation Administration/FAA) Land Use Compliance Inspection in the middle of that. We finally got that process resolved last year, and the only issue that was found was that there was a piece of property that was purchased in 2003 with federal funds, and the airport turned around and sold it in 2004 without asking for permission.”


As a result of that sale, the Airport Authority, as owners of LeTourneau Field, must repay $78,000.


“They should have gotten permission to sell the property, because it was federally funded. I went back through the old paperwork, and there was discussion about it at the (Airport Authority) meetings at the time, but either they just didn’t follow through, or the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) didn’t get the paperwork. I don’t know, but the bottom line is, there’s an old hanger here that I’ve been setting aside funds, about $80,000, to re-skin it, but now we get to pay them (the FAA) back instead.”


The airport operates on an approximate $160,000 annual budget, which includes $5,000 from the city, $10,000 from the county, and the remainder from airport income – mostly hanger rentals. Funding for projects included in the airport’s five-year Capital Improvement Plan comes from a combination of federal, state and local funding, Cox explained. For a majority of CIP projects, federal funding through the FAA – a division of the United States Department of Transportation—supplies 90 percent of the expense, with state funding covering an additional 5 percent, leaving five percent that must be covered by local funds.

“The city and county have been very good at helping us with construction projects, and we try to be good stewards of the money,” Cox said, adding that expansion of either of the airport’s two runways is not included in any Capital Improvement Plan. “Our runways, we’re where we’re at; we’re a little over 5,000 feet which is what they (the FAA) want. We’re pretty much locked into the footprint that we have now.”


Although LeTourneau Field is classified as a local, not regional, airport, the runways can handle many corporate jets and larger planes, Cox said.


“Weight is the issue, not the length. Our main runway is rated for 60,000 pounds, dual wheel,” he said. “I have a Gulfstream 650 that comes in at about 80,000 pounds that lands and takes off here. I have to get permission for that, and it can only be an occasional use, but it can use our runway. I’ve even got a C130 that comes in at about 100,000 pounds. I have to get approval through our engineering firm, and it’s also just an occasional thing, but the runway length is not an issue; we could have a 737 come in and land, except for the weight.”


The airport’s secondary runway has been shortened slightly, and has a smaller weight rating due to alterations made this year. In order to protect the original LeTourneau hanger, FAA regulations required a re-designation of the secondary runway as an “A-1 Small Runway,” and that limits it to 12,500 pounds Cox said. Additionally, steep slopes at the ends of the secondary runway required moving the thresholds on both ends and shortening the runway by a couple hundred feet.


“It’s still almost 3,000 feet,” Cox said. “Even a King Air can land on it if they wanted to.”


R. G. LeTourneau Field Capital Improvement Plan


FY2021 (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021)

  • Design and construct seal coat terminal apron (12,500 square yards) - $40,000 ($36,000 Federal, $1,800 State, $2,200 Local)

  • Design and construct seal coat terminal apron (12,500 square yards) - $40,000 ($36,000 Federal, $1,800 State, $2,200 Local)

  • Update DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) Plan 2021-23 (required every three years) - $12,500 ($11,250 Federal, $625 State, $625 Local)

  • Reimbursement of additional cost for T-hanger taxiway pavement rehab - $2,070 ($1,863 Federal, $0 State, $207 Local)

  • Total - $754,570 ($679,113 Federal, $37,425 State, $38,032 Local)

Primary surface obstruction removal - “There is a thing called an “object free area” that is 250 feet from the centerline on each side, so everything has to be level with the runway. On the approach end of runway 21, there are some granite rocks on both sides of the runway that are closer than that. They’ve been there since the 1930s; no one has ever hit them, but it’s a safety issue, so we have to get that done before we do any other projects,” said Cox.


FY2022 (July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022)

  • Design and construct pavement rehab of apron at runway 03/21 and runway 09/27 intersection - $250,000 ($225,000 Federal, $12,500 State, $12,500 Local)

  • Replace existing AWOS (Automated Weather Observing System) - $130,000 ($0 Federal, $97,500 State, $32,500 Local)

  • Total - $380,000 ($225,000 Federal, $110,000 State, $45,000 Local)

“Our AWOS is old and outdated, and replacement parts are very expensive, if they can even be located,” Cox said. “There are pilots that cannot legally land if we do not have a functioning AWOS system, so it is important that we bring this system (up to date). We will not know until probably March of this year whether or not the FAA has approved and funded the primary surface obstruction removal project scheduled for FY2021, but if they do not fund that this year, which I have a feeling they may not, then I would like to take the $35,000 that I have requested from the city and county for that project, and use it to complete the replacement of the AWOS system this year, and roll the rock removal project to next year. There is no federal funding for the AWOS system replacement available.”


FY2023(July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023)

  • Design T-Hanger taxiway, concrete slab and 12/14-unit T-Hanger building - $100,000 ($90,000 Federal, $5,000 State, $5,000 Local)

  • Design and construct beacon (Rehab), REILS and PAPIs - $100,000 ($90,000 Federal, $5,000 State, $5,000 Local)

  • Total - $200,000 ($180,000 Federal, $10,000 State, $10,000 Local)

“Once we get the safety issue with the rocks removed, and the pavement repaired, then we can get money to do a revenue-generating project, which is going to be to build another row of T-hangers,” Cox explained. “If I can get an additional 14 hangers to rent, that will give us about another $30,000 in annual revenue, plus fuel sales, and those 14 hangers will bring in 14 more airplanes, increasing the local tax base. Currently we have 42 hangers, and they are all full and I have a waiting list.”


FY2024 (July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024)

  • Construct T-Hanger taxiway and 12/14 unit T-Hanger Building - $645,000 ($580,500 Federal, $32.250 State, $32,250 Local)

  • Runway pavement rehabilitation design - $120,000 ($108,000 Federal, $6,000 State, $6,000 Local)

  • Update DBE Plan 2024-26 (required every three years) $12,500 ($11,250 Federal, $625 State, $625 Local)

  • Total - $777,500 ($699,750 Federal, $38,875 State, $38,875 Local)

FY2025 (July 1, 2024 to June 30, 2025)

  • Design airport perimeter fence - $60,000 ($54,000 Federal, $3,000 State, $3,000 Local)

  • Construct Airport perimeter fence - $500,000 ($450,000 Federal, $25,000 State, $25,000 Local)

  • Bid and construct parallel taxiway phase II - $2,000,000 ($1,800,000 Federal, $100,000 State, $100,000 Local)

  • Construct 3-21 Runway rehabilitation - $1,600,000 ($1,440,000 Federal, $80,000 State, $80,000 Local)

  • Design and construct corporate hanger (80’ x 80’) - $600,000 ($540,000 Federal, $30,000 State, $30,000 Local)

  • Total - $4,760,000 ($4,284,000 Federal, $238,000 State, $238,000 Local)

“The Parallel Taxiway, now, stops before the cross runway because there is a huge gully (past the cross runway). The project will fill in that huge gully, and then extend the taxiway out. Right now, it’s a safety issue,” Cox said.



FYI


Benefits of Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field Toccoa is located along US Highway 123, in the northeast Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains. With a 2009 population of approximately 9,000, Toccoa is the largest city and the county seat of Stephens County. Toccoa prides itself on its World War II heritage, its regional health care center for a five-county area, and the recreational opportunities provided by nearby Chattahoochee National Forest.


Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field is located two miles northeast of Toccoa’s central business district on 285 acres and is owned and operated by the Toccoa-Stephens County Airport Authority. The airport has two runways, Runway 02/20 and Runway 09/27, 5,008 and 2,951 feet long, respectively. Toccoa Aviation is the airport’s fixed base operator, providing aircraft fueling, tie downs, hangar storage, and aircraft maintenance. The terminal building provides pilots with amenities including a pilot lounge, flight planning, internet access, and conference rooms. Foothills Aviation provides aircraft maintenance, avionics sales and installation, and kit plane construction. A new 6,000-square foot terminal building is under construction, with a completion date of October 2011.


Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field supports area companies conducting business in the region, including Pruitt Inc, Patterson Pump, and Caterpillar Corporation. The airport also supports air cargo, law enforcement flights, civil air patrol operations, aerial inspections and surveys, environmental patrols, and forest firefighting. Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field serves as a gateway for Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountain tourism. Nearby attractions include Lake Hartwell, Panther Creek Trail, Toccoa Falls, Tallulah Gorge State Park, Currahee Mountain, and the Currahee Military Museum.


Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field supports a number of community events, attracting visitors from around the region. The largest event is the Currahee Military Weekend held each October, which honors the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa during World War II, including the famed Easy Company of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. The event includes both fixed and rotor wing aircraft demonstrations and paratroop jumps. It attracts over 2,000 people annually.


Airports connect Georgia’s citizens and businesses to the rest of the state, our nation, and the global economy. Toccoa - R.G. LeTourneau Field plays a vital role in supporting the region with 43 jobs with an annual payroll of $1,017,700, and $3,475,700 in economic output for the local and regional economies.

SOURCE: Georgia Department of Transportation

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