Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport
Where: 1137 Aviation Way, Gainesville
Size: One runway that is 4,001 feet long and one that is 5,500 feet
Owner/operator: City of Gainesville Public Works Department
History: Founded as a dirt airstrip in 1941, it was leased in 1943 by the U.S. Navy as a training base during World War II. In 1947, the airport was decommissioned and returned to the city.
Planes four times larger than previously allowed now can land at Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville, a move that some believe could boost economic development.
Following up on the results of a $25,000 study, the airport has raised its maximum weight load of aircraft to 100,000 pounds dual-wheel from 20,000 pounds single-wheel, airport manager Terry Palmer said Thursday.
“I would have been pleased with 70,000 and ecstatic with 80,000,” Palmer said. “This is going to bring a real positive benefit by allowing mid- to large-size business jets to come in without violating the published landing weight.”
Typically, “light jets” with six to eight passengers and 50-foot wingspans fit in the 20,000-pound category, while aircraft at 100,000 pounds can carry 13 to 18 passengers and have a wingspan up to 100 feet, he said.
Gainesville’s Wayne Stradley, a retired airline pilot who also has flown corporate aircraft, said he believes the change will benefit the area in many ways, including potentially bringing more business — and more jobs — to the area.
The new weight load “will allow Gainesville and Hall County to increase their exposure to larger aircraft, which would probably mean bigger corporations bringing in higher-capacity aircraft,” he said.
“It will also be able to make (possible) longer flights out of Gainesville.”
Dating to 1941, when it was a dirt airstrip, Lee Gilmer has runways 4,001 feet and 5,500 feet in length. Owned and operated by the city of Gainesville’s Public Works Department, it doesn’t feature an air control tower, but does have a fixed based operator, Champion Aviation.
Over the years, improvements have ranged from relocating beacons, marking the runways and building a parallel taxiway to strengthening and extending the runways.
This summer, Gainesville and Hall County divided costs in approving the study to see if larger aircraft can be allowed by testing pavement strength.
At the time, Palmer said he hoped to increase the weight load beyond 50,000 pounds, calling the 20,000 limit “artificially low.”
“Looking at comparable airports that have had recent pavement and runway work done, such as Habersham (airport), they were at 60,000, so … anything south of that was going to be a huge disappointment,” he said Thursday. “I was hoping we could at least meet or exceed that.”
The data was turned over to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which gave its OK and forwarded it to the Federal Aviation Administration. Officials are waiting for the new limit to get published in the FAA’s airport facility directory.
Speaking at a Nov. 6 public meeting on Hall’s long-range transportation needs, Stradley said he would like to see the airport factor into those plans.
“It’s always kind of overlooked,” he said. “And we see it as a great economic tool to ... bring business into Hall County.”
Stradley said he is working with a group of people in seeking airport improvements.
“People say we’re landlocked,” he said. “We’re not landlocked; we’re vision-locked. There are opportunities to improve our airport.”
Palmer has said he receives about four calls a month, on average, from pilots of business jets such as Gulfstreams looking to land at the airport. Those jets often come 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 in metro Atlanta.