Grant will fund airport updates

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2003

With the announcement by U.S. Representative Terry Everett that the Andalusia-Opp Municipal Airport would be receiving a $331,000 plus grant - Airport Manager Bill Benton immediately new what the grant would be used for - an upgrade to the electrical systems and apron at the facility.

Called "an exemplary facility and model for everyone to follow" by former Gov. Don Siegelman, the most recent grant is just one of more than $1 million in grants received by the airport in 2002-2003 thus far.

According to Benton, the electrical facility improvement is part of the airport's 10-year improvement plan.

"The electrical vault was put in in

the late 60s," he said. "It is antiquated and has been updated and updated, till it just needs a complete overhaul. That project will be about $135,000 of the total $368,000 package of grants (the federal grant also included at $36,800 local match)."

The remaining grant funds will be used to expand the parking apron for aircraft.

"The parking apron is also from the 60s," Benton said. "We have a high water table here, and it is causing the asphalt to oxidize, so we'll be able to put in some drains and expand the parking for aircraft."

That expansion will bring about the ability to accommodate larger numbers of aircraft - a lot more to be exact.

"When we're through, we'll have around 440,000 sq. ft. of parking for aircraft," he said. "That's probably the largest amount of parking apron in this area for a municipal airport."

In addition to this grant, the airport recently completed the installation of a Precision Approach Path Indicator, or PAPI system, which provides pilots with a means of determining a proper glide path into the airport for a safe approach and landing.

Benton said a PAPI system is can be extremely useful for pilots, especially pilots new to the area, or landing at night or in inclement weather.

"If a pilot comes in on the wrong glide path, especially too low, it can really ruin your day," he said. "This is just another way that helps pilots maintain accurate approaches."

Benton added that the airport has made approximately $8 million in improvements since 1988, and said most of the credit is due to the Andalusia-Opp Airport Authority.

"The airport authority has worked really well," he said. "We have two cities - Andalusia and Opp - represented, and the county. They have all worked hard to make sure it works. Without them, I don't think the improvements would have happened and we wouldn't have a facility like we do. We have one of the finest municipal airports in the country, and it's a real asset to the county. Our runway is in excellent shape and we're continuing to grow."

As far as the future of the airport, Benton says he doesn't foresee any commercial airline service in the next few years, but believes a charter air service would be well served at Andalusia-Opp.

"Dothan is having a hard time supporting the commercial service they have, and the population base in the city alone is double what Covington County's population is, so I don't think we'll see any commercial airline in here anytime soon, but we've seen an increase nationally in charter aircraft service, and in charter flights to and from here as well," he said. "CEO's don't drive anywhere anymore, and a lot of people still don't like to fly commercially, so there has been an increase in people on charter flights to here. I think we could probably continue to support a charter service, and possibly see one grow here."