The first phase of the project will be the construction of a retaining wall near the approach end of Runway 5, which is in the southwest corner of the airport property near Sardis Church Road. The actual extension of the runway and the installation of an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) is set to occur during the second phase of construction. (Map courtesy of Passero Associates)
A long-awaited project in Macon, Ga., took off Jan. 24 when local, regional and state officials attended a groundbreaking ceremony at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport (MCN) to extend the facility's Runway 5/23.
"This extension will provide so much opportunity for the growth at our airport and will make it more convenient for our current tenants," said Macon Mayor Lester Miller. "This is a project that has been in the works for many years, and we are thrilled that it is finally happening."
Also in attendance were Macon-Bibb County leaders, airport staff, airport tenants and many other community partners. They all got to see the beginning of a necessary project that has been under discussion for 40 years and follows more than a decade of arduous behind-the-scenes efforts to make it happen.
"The runway extension is important for a variety of reasons, such as improving safety for large aircraft operations, and allowing for larger aircraft to land and take off at MCN with full payloads," explained Doug Faour, aviation director of Macon-Bibb County. "It also makes the airport more attractive for commercial airline service to other destinations and increases air-service charter opportunities to other destinations."
Initial Construction On New Retaining Wall
The first phase of the project will be the construction of a retaining wall near the approach end of Runway 5, which is in the southwest corner of the airport property near Sardis Church Road. Atlanta-based Precision 2000 is building the wall for $2.2 million, paid for by federal infrastructure funds and other grants.
An added $168,000 in grant funds will pay for Passero Associates, a national engineering firm with an office in Atlanta, to supervise that contract.
The Georgia Department of Transportation's (GDOT) highway division is also contributing funds to the first phase of work at MCN.
"The Middle Georgia Regional Airport will be better suited to compete for business, and we will be successful," said Faour. "We'll be successful because of our proximity to the world's busiest airport [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International], our proximity to Robins Air Force Base, and our location in the center of the state."
The actual extension of the runway and the installation of an Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) is set to occur during the second phase of construction. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), EMAS uses crushable material placed at the end of a runway to stop an airplane that overruns the runway. When the aircraft's tires sink into the lightweight EMAS material, it decelerates the plane and brings it to a halt.
Passero Aided in Runway's Approval, Lower Cost
The county had been trying for years to secure justification for a runway extension. During that time, local officials met with three airport consultants before contacting Passero in March 2020 for help in obtaining FAA and GDOT approval of the runway expansion. The justification study was submitted that summer to both agencies and approved by GDOT and the FAA in the early fall.
The planning and technical report was completed promptly, according to Passero, and its high-quality product helped to quickly obtain approval, enabling MCN to move the project forward.
Passero demonstrated that a 600-ft. extension was needed for the airport, which would increase the length of Runway 5/23 from 6,500 ft. to 7,100 ft. Based upon the engineering firm's reports, GDOT gave the greenlight to a total length at Macon's airport between 7,100 ft. to 7,300-ft.
In re-evaluating the extension alternatives requested by the FAA, based on the justified length of 7,100 ft. for the expanded runway, Passero's planning team was able to help reduce the estimated construction costs from $40 million to the $12-14 million range by using EMAS, and Declared Distances, the specific lengths of runways published for pilots to understand their allowable take-off and landing weights and speeds.
The extension should be completed in late 2024 or early 2025.
Additional Upgrades Planned at Macon Airport
Plans also are in the works for a new air traffic control tower as Macon is one of 30 cities approved by the FAA for new construction, Faour told WMAZ-TV in Macon.
In October, the county commission approved spending nearly a quarter-million dollars for a conceptual design and environmental site study for a new corporate terminal building at the regional airport.
The plans call for constructing a two-story, 15,000-sq.-ft. building for offices, conference rooms, spaces for gatherings, and a restaurant, all at a cost estimated to be in the range of $6 million to $9 million, according to the contract.
Passero is drawing plans and doing 3D modeling for the new terminal for the fixed-base operators (FBOs), which consist of businesses granted permission to work on airport grounds to provide necessary services such as fueling, maintenance, or other aviation-related services.
In addition, the engineering and architectural company last year began studying the feasibility of moving existing corporate hangars to another location on the more than 1,000-acre MCN property.
In November 2021, Macon-Bibb County initially hired Passero for a period of five years as a consulting architect and engineer of record to lead the renovation and expansion efforts at the airport, which included conducting a competitive bid process to select a construction company to rehabilitate the airport's Taxiway C. Shortly thereafter, Reeves Construction Co., based in Duncan, S.C., was awarded the contract.
Luring cargo carriers back to Macon also is part of the plan. FedEx used to fly out of MCN until about 10 years ago, Faour told WMAZ-TV.
The new corporate terminal will be a crucial step to boosting the airport's reputation as it will offer the first impression of the community to company executives and other high-profile visitors flying in on private jets.
In 2020, Macon-Bibb County approved work on the airport's secondary runway, which will be used as the main landing strip during the extension project.
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