Flights could be restored at Middle Georgia Regional Airport as soon as next month, according to the city's director of aviation.
George Brown, who oversees the operation of Macon's two airports, updated City Council's public properties committee on the renovations at both locations during a meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Macon Downtown Airport.
At the end of January, Atlantic Southeast Airlines cut daily service from five flights to two because Middle Georgia Regional Airport did not meet security qualifications set by the Transportation Security Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The installation of a closed-circuit camera system, combination locks and card readers that limit access to the airport is expected to be complete in two weeks, Brown said.
He anticipates the TSA will be able to test the improvements March 25 and if the equipment is working properly, Middle Georgia Regional Airport will be upgraded to a Class III servicing airport. Once the necessary paperwork is certified in Washington, the airport will formally be designated a Class III.
Because of the lack of adequate security, the airport was downgraded in January to a Class IV status, which means airplanes with more than 60 seats are not permitted to fly in and out of the airport.
Since that time, the airport has seen a decline in revenue, but rental car companies were holding their own, Brown told the public properties committee.
The city's 15 airport employees are still on staff, but might be loaned to other departments until flights are restored, Brown said.
With the decline in traffic, federal security workers have been dividing their time between the Middle Georgia Regional Airport and neighboring airports to work the required number of hours, Brown said.
The airport has recently undergone a $6 million dollar renovation that city leaders hope will lure another airline to Macon.
"A category III airport can bring in any size airplane that can use a 65-foot runway," Brown said. "We're looking at planes with 280 passengers, even DC-10s."
The city is negotiating with an undisclosed carrier to fly 122-passenger planes between Macon and Biloxi, Miss., and Washington's Dulles airport, Brown said.
Public Properties committee chairwoman Willette H. Chambliss wanted to hold Wednesday's meeting at the Macon Downtown Airport so that council members could see the renovations in progress at the city's smaller airport off Ocmulgee East Industrial Boulevard.
Mike Carter, the operator of the downtown airport, gave Chambliss and council members Rick Hutto and Ed DeFore a tour of the new $650,000 Herbert Smart Terminal at the airport.
With a push of a button the large hangar door electronically folded upward.
"Nice, very nice," Chambliss said as the door slid upward.
"We're moving into the 21st century," Carter said.
"You don't have to pull the rope any more," Hutto said of the mechanical door.
The terminal will provide pilots a state-of-the-art flight planning room and a comfortable lounge for resting between trips.
"Pilots come in at 8 a.m. with a corporate jet. It might be 6 or 7 p.m. before they're needed again," Brown said.
He plans to advertise the new facilities in flight magazines to attract new business to the downtown airport, Brown said.
The building is expected to be finished at the end of April, Carter said.
Carter is also building a set of 14 hangars, which already have tenants, on the back side of the airport, he said.
He is considering adding another 14 to 20 hangars after that, he said.
Brown said they are also looking at expanding approach possibilities to give pilots an option in landing at the downtown airport.
"We want as many approaches as we can, so when the weather gets bad there are plenty of ways to land the aircraft," Brown said.
His goal is to make the downtown airport a top-grade, general-aviation, fixed-base operation, he said.
DeFore, who said he sold copies of The Telegraph as a 10-year-old boy at the airport in 1942, praised Carter for his work in improving the airport.
"This man has taken the lead here and moved it forward," DeFore said.