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Renovations continue at Gainesville airport

GAINESVILLE — The venerable Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport in Gainesville continues to undergo renovations in keeping with growing demand and expectations.

Dating to 1941, when it was a dirt airstrip, Lee Gilmer has runways of 4,001 feet and 5,500 feet in length. There are nearly 100 total hangars.

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-base operator.

Over the years, improvements have included relocating beacons, marking the runways and building a parallel taxiway, as well as strengthening and extending the runways.

The second phase of terminal area improvements, which includes resurfacing cracked asphalt runways where weeds have sprouted, is the latest item on the docket.

More than $585,000 in federal and state funds will support the project, and city officials were expected to sign off Tuesday on Gainesville’s share of $35,000.

The funds will also help improve drainage at the 66-acre airport, which is the fifth-largest in the state, supporting both business and leisure travel.

An increasing number of flight hours among patrons, as well as new demand for maintenance service at the airport, has helped turn the corner after the lean years of the recession.

“We’ve had two really good years now,” said Terry Palmer, airport manager.

Palmer has seen it all since earning his pilot’s license in 1990, honing his skills in northeast Georgia.

There are 152 aircraft based at Lee Gilmer, and the weight load of aircraft allowed to land on its runways was raised last year in the hopes of attracting more business jets to the area.

The maximum weight is set at 100,000 pounds for dual-axle planes, up from 40,000 pounds.

Thanks to that increase, planes four times larger than previously allowed can land at the airport, a move local government officials and business leaders said will spur new job growth, commercial development and an expanding tax base.

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, according to Palmer.

These changes will help the airport better compete with Briscoe Field in Gwinnett County, DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, McCollum Field in Cobb County or other runways in Fulton County, Palmer said.