By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief
Buried in all the statistics that surface at this time of year when analysts try to determine what, if anything, the activity of the previous year says about how things will be in the coming years is this grim fact: Only one new airport opened in the U.S. in 2012. The forward-thinking folks of Stockton and Plainville, Kansas, celebrated the opening of the $6 million facility in April. Rooks County Regional Airport is midway between the two centers. It has a 5,000-foot runway and room for airport businesses, and replaced seldom-used grass strips in both towns. Although city and county officials hope the airport will eventually help attract new business to the area, the immediate concern was that fixed-wing medevac aircraft had nowhere to land. It looks like there will be at least one new airport completed in 2013.
Cleveland, Tenn., will open Cleveland Regional Jetport in January. The $40 million airport is intended to be reliever for nearby Chattanooga and will focus on GA traffic. Local officials say a good airport is essential to attract new business. "It absolutely enhances your posture as a location ready for economic development," Mark Fidler, the new airport's operations director, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "It's used as a welcome mat." Along with the 5,500-foot runway, the airport project includes an 8,000-square-foot terminal set up for business meetings. The new airport will replace Hardwick Field, whose 3,100-foot strip was described by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland as "the worst, unsafest" airport in Tennessee. Its inadequacy was highlighted by visits by the governor in the state King Air. When Gov. Bill Haslam comes calling, he and his staff get dropped off at Hardwick Field, but the lightened King Air deadheads to Chattanooga and Haslam goes there by car to fly out because the current strip is considered too short for the loaded King Air to depart from.