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Changes continue at Gainesville airport with new public, private investment
Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport Manager Terry Palmer has seen two good years in a row at the airport and expects the new improvements to help for years to come.

Big changes continue at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville thanks to public and private investments in a hoped-for future that lures bigger and more frequent travel to Northeast Georgia.

Gainesville City Council has OK'd a plan from Fieldale Farms to expand its corporate flight department, which has been stationed at the airport since 1992.

The company is now looking at a 20-year lease for the purpose of constructing a new corporate hangar after purchasing a larger aircraft. The rent is $6,000 a year.

The city owns and operates the airport for public interest, and there are about 150 aircraft based here.

The weight of aircraft allowed to land on the runways was raised last year, an early sign that larger business planes might begin looking to the region as a new destination.

Planes four times larger than previously allowed can now land at the airport, part of a package of improvements local government officials and business leaders believe can help spur commercial development.

Some runway and terminal area upgrades have already been made as a part of ongoing improvements.

And drainage at the 66-acre airport, which is the fifth-largest in the state, has been improved.

The airport dates to 1941, when it was a dirt airstrip, and has grown to include about 100 hangars.

But more will be needed to draw business and leisure travel in, officials said, and that’s why they are pursuing federal and state funding for a ongoing runway improvement project and airport layout plan.

Total funding for both projects is earmarked at $72,000 from the federal government, $100,000 from the state and $36,000 from the city.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has approved initial design and bid costs, which makes the city eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Officials said this could be a start in competing with Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County, DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, McCollum Field in Cobb County or other runways in Fulton County.

Finally, city officials said they are extending an agreement for Champion Aviation to remain the fixed-base operator at the airport for another seven years beginning Sept. 1.

Champion Aviation has provided a variety of services since opening as the airport’s fixed-base operator in 1992, such as aircraft ground guidance, sale and delivery of aviation fuel, aircraft storage, towing, parts sales and flight school training.

The new lease includes a monthly rent of about $2,350.

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