Certification first step in improving airport

Published 7:13 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back in business: John Eagerton, right, chief of the Aeronautics Bureau of the Alabama Department of Transportion, presented to Chilton County Aiport Authority Chairman Craig Cleckler an operating license at the county commission meeting Monday.

Certification wasn’t the end of the work for those striving to make the Chilton County Airport an economic benefit to the county; in some ways it was the beginning.

Members of the Authority worked at least 10 years to meet the criteria for certification.

In 2001, trees on property surrounding the airport had rendered the first 25 percent of the runway unusable—and thus the airport itself useless for the most part, said Billy Singleton, member of the Airport Authority.

The Authority acquired 31 surrounding parcels of land and had the trees cut down, among other updates, and their work was rewarded Monday when John Eagerton, chief of the Aeronautics Bureau of the Alabama Department of Transportation, presented a certification plaque at a meeting of the Chilton County Commission.

“It has been several years in coming,” Eagerton said at the meeting. “We are excited about the work that the county has done.”

Eagerton even said his department has identified the Chilton County Airport as a “priority,” because airports in surrounding areas have reached their potential and because of Chilton County’s location between Birmingham and Montgomery.

Certification is important because insurance on airplanes won’t cover landing at uncertified ports, and more grants are available for certified airports.

Which brings up the reality for the county’s airport: It has been certified and has full use of its runway, but now there is more work to be done.

Singleton said the Authority will next address the airport’s infrastructure, working to improve the lighting and runway, and instituting approach procedures for times of compromising weather conditions, like low light or low clouds.

The hope of Authority members and other officials is that the airport benefits the county economically. Singleton said the airport ideally would present a positive first impression for businesspeople.

“So many times, people make a judgment on an area and a community based on what they first see,” he said.

Singleton, who retired from U.S. Airways and now pilots for a Birmingham company, says he sees customers regularly who would be willing to use a functional airport in Chilton County.

“We just want to make it to be an economic resource for Chilton County,” he said. “We all want to see Chilton County do well. The airport is our piece of the puzzle.”