The idea of building the Greene County Airport was originally conceived in the late 1960s and early 1970s by then County Commission Chairman Winthrop Phelps, along with Commissioners Mickey Channel and Billy Ashley. This group set about to buy up property to build the airport on its present site, with the major portion being the Whitaker farm, along with numerous other small adjoining tracts of land. Grants were obtained from the FAA and Georgia DOT, withGreene County funding about 5 to 10% of the cost. Ross Construction Company built the original 3300 ft. lighted runway, along with an aircraft parking ramp, automobile parking lot, and access road in 1974. Fortunately, this group had the foresight to buy enough property to extend the runway length to 5000 ft., which was done in 1996.
Around the latter part of 1975, Dar Hendrickson bought the Atlanta Flying Club and brought it to Greene County . He hired a flight instructor and a mechanic, and acquired a Cessna Aircraft dealership. Dar talked the County into building a hangar, and Billy Ashley talked them into installing a 10,000 gallon underground fuel tank. After about 1 year, Dar gave up the operation, and the County moved the police and EMS into the hangar. Sometime after that, the police moved out, and Harold Wilson moved the Civil Defense into the hangar, where he did aircraft maintenance and sold aviation gasoline. There were several Fixed Base Operators (FBO’S) that tried to run a business at the airport during the next few years, but none managed to last more than one year. Harold Wilson kept the place alive during some of the in between times. There were some periods, however, when the airport was totally deserted, with no service, no phone, and the restrooms locked.
A Legislative Act of the State of Georgia established the Greene County Airport Authority in 1978. The Airport Authority is a five-member board, serving without pay, and appointed by the County Commission . The purpose of this Board is to “ensure the efficient and proper development, maintenance, and operation of the airport for the use of aircraft deemed by the Authority to be necessary, convenient, or desirable.” As such, the Authority has the power to purchase, lease, or dispose of real or personal property, and to make and enter into contracts for engineering and construction of airport projects. Billy Ashley was the first Chairman of the Airport Authority.
In 1996, under the Chairmanship of Mike Jones, the Authority managed to get the 3300 ft. runway extended to 5000 ft., which was sufficient in length to allow small executive jets to land here. The State provided 75% of the engineering costs for the project, and substantial donations from Reynolds Plantation, Port Armor, Harbor Club, Cuscowilla, Nibco, and Chipman Union paid for part of the construction.
Mike Jones resigned from the Authority to run for the School Board in January 1997, and Jerry Schnaedelbach, an Airline Transport Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor, was appointed Chairman at that time. With a full service FBO at the airport to welcome customers and provide fuel, maintenance, and other services, more and more aircraft began to arrive, including more and larger executive jets. Many additional improvements continued to be made, including all weather instrument approaches, expanded aircraft parking areas, new fueling facility dispensing both jet fuel and avgas, and eight new hangars built by the FBO.
In the year 2000, our airport received $312,287.00 from Georgia DOT, which was 75% of the total cost of providing extensive under drainage and resurfacing of the existing 75 by 5000 ft. runway, which was in a deteriorating condition. The remainder of the cost was paid from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds dedicated to the airport over a 5 years period. This project also included construction of a turnaround taxiway at the west end of the airport with associated lighting. Recently, an Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) was added. This provides arriving and departing aircraft with up to date weather conditions 24 hours a day.
The Greene County Airport Authority has an Airport Layout Plan (ALP) in place, prepared in 1998 by it’s consultant engineer, Wilbur Smith & Associates (WSA), which details all of the airport improvement plans for the foreseeable future. It is the dedicated purpose of the Authority to see that the plan is followed in future development. A five years Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is also in place to achieve these improvements. The CIP is updated every year by the Authority, consistent with available funding, and with the close cooperation of the consultant engineer and the Georgia DOT. Major improvements included in the ALP are expansion of the existing aircraft parking ramp to double its present size, completion of a full length parallel taxiway, additional aircraft hangar space, additional automobile parking, security fencing for the entire boundary of the airport, and a small terminal building with offices, a pilot’s lounge, a conference room, and restrooms. Future plans call for the runway to be extended to 5,500 ft. and widened from its present width of 75 ft. to 100 ft. Plans also call for the installation of an Instrument Landing System (ILS) for inclement weather.
With the rapid growth of tourism in Greene County , and with the advent of the Ritz-Carlton development, our airport is becoming more important in bringing tourists, industrial prospects, and developers here. These people don’t arrive in town on a bus - they come to the airport, as President George W. Bush recently did. The airport is the “front door” to the community, and there should be a decent facility there to welcome these folks when they arrive. This is how the airport contributes to the county, although it should be noted that each and every aircraft based there contributes ad valorem taxes to the county on the same basis as a house, or in the case of jet aircraft, on the same basis as a subdivision.