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Airport looks to attract larger planes, more business
Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport Manager Terry Palmer said he hopes a new study will prove the runway can increase its landing weight beyond its current 50,000 pounds.

Hall County and the city of Gainesville are considering splitting the cost of a $25,000 study to determine if Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport can handle larger aircraft landing on its runways.

If so, the airport is expected to draw more business jets, a potential boon for the area economy.

The airport has a maximum landing weight for single-axle planes set at 20,000 pounds. Dual-axle aircraft can weigh up to 40,000 pounds and still land at the airport.

“That really limits you,” said Airport Manager Terry Palmer.

Palmer said he hopes the study, which will test runway pavement strength, will allow the airport to increase its landing weight load beyond 50,000 pounds.

If the study shows the runways can handle increased weights, the results will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, which makes the final determination on whether airports can raise their weight limits.

“If we could obtain funds to help with this (study), there would be an immediate impact on the number of business aircraft visiting with us and doing business in our area,” Palmer told county officials in an email.

Palmer said he receives about four calls a month, on average, from pilots of business jets like Gulfstreams looking to land at the airport.

Often, these jets are coming from as far away as New York City, Canada and Washington state.

But Palmer said he has to turn them away, sending them instead to places such as DeKalb Peachtree Airport. Moreover, there is no telling how many aircraft that would prefer to land in Gainesville head elsewhere because they know they exceed the landing weight limits.

All this means a loss of potential business in the region.

Palmer said there is plenty of runway length to handle these larger planes.

Of course, it’s possible the results of the study will not fall in Palmer’s favor.

“I have to prepare myself for that,” he said. “Even if we find out what we don’t want to know, at least we know where we are. Then we can tackle that problem.”

Funding for the study would come from SPLOST VI revenues.

“We approached the county about using SPLOST VI funds because airport improvements were designated by the county in SPLOST VI and this could be a good use of those funds,” Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett told The Times in an email.

Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said he anticipates sending a letter to the city in the next two weeks outlining what portion of county SPLOST VI funds will be allocated to the study. Gainesville will pick up the tab on the remaining funds.

“I’m very hopeful this is going to be a positive thing for all of us,” Palmer said.