The airport has been operational since 1930 and has been in need of repair since the 1980s, said Bill Hutto, airport director.
He said planning for the new addition started in 2002, but once construction begins, the terminal should be completed within one year.
“The building is too small to accommodate the demands that we have today in personnel and the people in the community,” said Hutto. “It has many maintenance issues that are ongoing, including roofs and walls that leak, and it’s too close to the runway to meet the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards.”
The guest list for the ceremony included members of the Auburn University Board of Trustees, the city councils of Auburn and Opelika, Lee County commissioners, city and county officials and the FAA.
The airport is used by the University for aviation students and also serves the community as a public airport. Hutto said with more than 65,000 aircraft operations each year, the airport’s size would not be able to support their mission.
“Many of our corporations that are based in Auburn, Opelika and Lee County fly into the airport,” Hutto said. “The local government sees having a nice, efficient functioning airport as an economic tool.”
Hutto said the new terminal will include a conference room which will better serve their customers.
They will be able to fly into the airport, meet, then fly out from the same location.
“Once it’s completed and customers land, they will know that they have landed in a modern, progressive community,” Hutto said.
Mayor Bill Ham said it is a necessary economic development tool.
He also said the new terminal will have a positive effect on the Auburn community.
“It’s the first thing companies want to know about,” Ham said. “The locale of the airport, the number feet of runway, how accessible it is and whether they can get their corporate planes in and out with ease. That’s the primary reason the two cities and the county put in almost $5 million to make it happen.”
State Rep. Mike Hubbard said he has been interested in seeing improvements in the airport terminal for some time.
“There is no doubt that we are under served in this community,” Hubbard said. “We are one of the most progressive communities, but we unfortunately have one of the worst airports. That is not the impression we want to give people when they first arrive in Auburn.”
Hubbard said the fast-growing community deserves to have a first-class airport that will encourage progress in the region.
“It’s a catalyst for economic development, needed for the University, aviation management, flight training programs and also for the community,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard has been working closely with the education trust fund and the Department of Transportation to secure funds for the terminal. Hutto said Hubbard has been a real champion for the airport.
“I’ve been able to secure $4.7 million, and I know the cities and counties are committed to putting money up,” he said.
Hubbard said he commended the region for working together and supporting the community.
“This is a classic example of how the two cities, the county, the university and the state are all working in concert together to make this plan a reality,” he said.