The Augusta Regional Airport has played a significant role, both in the history of American aviation and in the economic development of the CSRA.
When most people think of the airport, they think of hellos and good-byes at the gates and watching planes take off and land. What many don't realize is the enormous economic impact that the airport has had on our community.
In 1941, the airport was first established as a flight training school to support the United States military build-up prior to World War II. The school, Georgia Aero Tech, was one of three contract pilot schools in the country to offer basic flight training, employing an estimated 300 civilians with an annual payroll of 1.5 million dollars.
Tragedy struck in 1941 when, while performing flight-training maneuvers, two aircraft collided in midair and three of the four occupants were killed. In honor of Donald Bush, one of the instructors killed in the crash, the airfield was named Bush Field. Nearly 5,000 students were trained at the flight school before its doors were closed in 1944.
Midway through World War II, the United States began a build-up of Camp Gordon. The end of the war found the aviation field far from complete, and with the possibility at that time of closing Camp Gordon, the Army suddenly had no use for the field. In 1948, the Federal Government transferred Bush Field and all the buildings to the City of Augusta. Bush Field became Augusta's commercial airport in 1950. The Augusta Aviation Commission, created in 1945 by the city council, selected Dillon County, South Carolina native J. Hampton Manning as Augusta's first airport director, a position Manning would hold for the next 43 years.
Manning had first come to Augusta in 1942 as a member of the second class going through flight training at Georgia Aero Tech. He left for the South Pacific shortly thereafter. Manning returned after the war ended as a highly-decorated pilot and a man who knew what he wanted to do: Be an airline pilot for Eastern Airlines.
"But Sally (his wife) wanted to stay in Augusta," Manning once said in a magazine interview. "So when I found there was a job open as airport manager, I applied. I was hired and here I am still." The "here" he referred to was Bush Field, of course. He would lead it through an amazing time in aviation history. In fact, a little more than a year after he took control of the airport, Eastern Airlines and Delta Airlines resumed commercial service to Augusta. Prior to the grand opening ceremony, the City Council voted to rename the airport Curry Field after a local politician. The act outraged veterans, and thousands of people protested! Less than a month later the name "Bush Field" was restored.
One of the airports most profitable initiatives occurred in 1955 when Mr. Manning opened the transient terminal. The facility sold fuel to and serviced visiting aircraft. To this day, the fueling operation continues as a major source of revenue for the airport, keeping it self-sufficient and profitable. This is one of the reasons why no tax dollars or City funding has ever been needed to support the airport.
Throughout the 1950s and 60s passenger traffic grew. The old flight school barracks were renovated and leased to Continental Hotels. By 1964, Bush Field was one of the country's busiest airports, ranking 135th in the nation. Daily jet service at the airport began in 1965 and passenger traffic began to skyrocket. By the close of the 1960s the airport had doubled its baggage claim area and added a terminal, a tower, a lobby, a hotel, parking meters, and a second runway.
Just as the 1960s proved to be Bush Field's commercial growth era, the 1970s were the airports industrial growth period. During the 70s Capitol Aviation of Georgia established itself at the airport with a million-dollar-plus airplane service facility. The company, now known as Standard Aero, developed a jet engine repair facility, an avionics navigation shop and a structural and aircraft systems repair shop. Today, Standard Aero employs roughly 220 people at the Augusta Facility.
Meanwhile, the terminal, with its single-level architecture and suburban landscaping, earned the nickname of "The Country Club Airport."
In 1988, "Hamp" Manning retired with the distinction of serving as airport manager of the same airport longer than any other national airport executive. For his service, the Department of Transportation awarded him its second highest honor, The Distinguished Service Award.
By the 1990s Bush Field tenants and visitors were contributing approximately $290 million in annual economic activity with nearly 2,200 jobs attributed to the airport.
In 2000, Bush Field was renamed Augusta Regional Airport at Bush Field to reflect its representation of the rapidly growing CSRA.
The self-sufficient airport, which has never used tax dollars to offset any of its projects or programs, completed the first-ever "Master Plan" in 2002. The Master Plan serves as a road map for future economic growth and development at and around the airport.
Today, the Augusta Regional Airport continues to take care of business. The 2011 statistics are impressive! More than 500,000 commercial service passengers used the airport, and about 14,000 general aviation operations carried 50,000 persons. Fort Gordon and the military utilize the airport as a training facility and to transport patients to and from the Eisenhower Army Medical Center and troops to and from the Middle East.
Delta Connection carrier Atlantic Southeast Airlines and American Airlines Express connect Augusta to the world via convenient, non-stop service to Atlanta and Charlotte - two of the largest hub cities in the country.
Since 1941, our local airport has played a significant role in the economic development of this community. Augusta Regional Airport tenants and visitors contribute approximately $300 million in economic activity to the area each year.
And, now, with the construction of a new airline terminal, the Augusta Regional Airport continues to move the community forward, Embracing the Vision of Augusta and the CSRA.