Long-awaited upgrades due at Newnan-Coweta airport
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Long-awaited and needed upgrades to Newnan-Coweta Airport-Whitlock Field are in the near future, and the changes will likely make the airport more popular with business and industry types.
The biggest change will be the installation of a “glide slope” instrument landing system.
The system will allow planes to land at the airport in just about all weather conditions. Right now, planes can only land in clear weather.
There are two parts to an instrument landing system, said Airport Manager Calvin Walker. “We already have the localizer, which gives you a partial signal.” The localizer provides lateral guidance to pilots while the glide slope gives vertical guidance.
“Think of it like an X when you’re coming into a visual on a runway,” Walker said. “When you’ve got those two lined up, you know exactly where you are going.”
At a large airport like Hartsfield-Jackson, for example, the instrument landing system (ILS) “takes them to the exact same position on the runway, and they are looking at the instrument panel. They know exactly where they are going to land, every time,” Walker said. “When we get fog or rain, it’s added safety. This will allow you to get in about 90 percent of the time.”
The ILS has been in the works for years, but things are about to get started in earnest. “We’re probably looking at February” for the system to be up and running, Walker said. “A lot of that will depend on the FAA doing the approaches.”
“We’ve been trying to get it forever,” said County Administrator Theron Gay. “It allows you to come in on all weather days. With some of the medical facilities we have here now, we thinking that is very important.”
The installation of the system will require the realignment of a portion of Alex Stephens Road. A ravine will also have to be filled.
A flat surface is required for the signal to bounce off of, said Michael Fouts, Coweta assistant administrator. Work on that part of the project will begin in April.
The impact on the property owners on Alex Stephens Road should be minimal, Gay said.
That part of the project is being paid for with funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Local Maintenance Improvement Grants, with the county providing labor and equipment and the Newnan-Coweta Airport Authority kicking in additional funding.
Having a full instrument landing system is important when it comes to attracting additional users of the airport.
Peachtree City’s Falcon Field already has an ILS, so “it kind of puts you at a disadvantage when people are looking at locating,” Walker said.
The other project, which should be completed this summer, is a replacement of the Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS). The system broadcasts weather information to pilots.
The airport’s old system has been out of commission for about six months. “Basically the old one has outlived its life,” Walker said. The company that manufactured it quit supporting it, he said. Because the system isn’t functioning, automated weather conditions at the airport also aren’t broadcast to television channels and other weather information and forecasting sites.
The system is more important than it may seem in these days when you can get weather forecasts just about anywhere.
“Just because it is clear 30 miles out doesn’t mean we don’t have fog or something that could obscure their landing,” Walker said. “Pilots want to know before they get here.”
A few weeks ago, there were some foggy conditions at the airport. “We had a guy who attempted to come in here, in a Citation jet, and they had to divert because they couldn’t get in,” Walker said.
The coming improvements will “just keep businesses coming into Coweta County. And that is why we’re here.”
Small community airports likely conjure up images of hobby pilots just having fun in their tiny planes, and while there are some of those, a good bit of business-related travel comes through the Newnan-Coweta airport.
Many large companies “have a centralized management team, and they will fly to each location and do what they’ve got to do and then go home,” Walker said. Examples of that locally include PetSmart, Belk, Target and Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Belk’s airplane is particularly busy around Christmas.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America is based in Chicago with hospitals all over the country, now including Newnan, and “they’ll fly their team in,” Walker said.
A lot of companies use their own planes instead of having executives fly commercially so they don’t have to deal with the delays at major airports.
Once the AWOS and ILS systems are up and running, the next big project will be a new parallel taxiway. Having that additional area will improve the flow and reduce traffic.
“The busier the airport gets, the more important” that project will become, said Gay. Right now, there is no funding for the project.
“We hope we will get a lot of federal and state dollars to do that,” Gay said. A contract for the preliminary engineering on the project was recently signed.
Hopes are to have the taxiway project under way “in the next year or two,” Walker said.