LAWRENCEVILLE —A year after officials rejected a proposal to allow commercial flights at the Gwinnett County Airport, the county is investing more money in the small facility than in recent history.
Matt Smith, the director of Briscoe Field, told commissioners Tuesday that many of the upgrades recommended by a citizen committee last year are moving along, including a taxiway restoration in the works and improvements to equipment at the radio tower.
With nearly $800,000 in county airport funds being directed at improvements and another $1.5 million in federal and state funds, the investment is more than has been made in any one year of the past decade, Smith said.
“Repairing the asphalt is a big deal for us,” Smith said of the biggest project to rehabilitate taxiway W.
In 2011 and 2012, an advisory board of residents met to debate not only the controversial passenger service proposal but also ways to improve the county’s asset, with the intent of using the airport as an economic development tool to bring companies to the community.
Smith said after the meeting that the small airport has seen more corporate jet traffic in recent months, although take-offs and landings are down, as gas prices have kept recreational flyers from the air.
While upgrades to the air traffic control tower may only be evident to those in the know — but were sorely needed when officials couldn’t find anyone that grows the crystals needed in the old radios that date back to the tower’s opening in 1996 — other projects have been evident to the community.
To improve the aesthetics, officials added Briscoe Boulevard, the main thoroughfare at the airport, to the county’s road mowing contract, since airport priorities on mowing were more about ensuring navigation, preventing fires and keeping animals away from the runway.
While signage has already improved along the road, Smith said officials are working on a monument sign at the airport’s entrance to replace myriad signs left by businesses at the roadside. As the city of Lawrenceville has agreed to add landscaping there, the volunteer Experimental Aircraft Association chapter is donating a glider that will mounted at the entrance.
Smith is also working on installing an aircraft wash rack, and he recently installed a closed-circuit camera system, which allows officials to more closely monitor flights that come in during the hours the tower is closed, from 9 p.m. until 7 a.m.
In the coming years, Smith not only hopes to receive money for some more costly rehab projects to the runway and other taxiways, but to create a land use planning study of property surrounding the facility.
While the county tower faced closure earlier this year, when federal officials announced sequestration cuts to airports across the country, Smith said he believes the political will remains to keep the funding in place.
With the improvement in the economy, he also hopes to re-examine the financial feasibility of adding customs services at the local airfield, one of the major tenets the advisory group said could help with economic development.
“I want to commend you for the progress that has been made,” Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who opposed the commercial plans, said to Smith. “With the financial constraints, I think you’ve done a really good job of working on the list (of needed improvements).”