Shelby’s leadership paves way for authorization of Southwest Alabama Regional Airport
The historic leadership of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) has paid off in a major way for his home state once again.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has authorized a new regional airport in Thomasville for residents across the southwest region of the Yellowhammer State. According to a Wednesday announcement from Shelby’s office, local airports will merge to become the Southwest Alabama Regional Airport.
This has been a longtime project spearheaded by Shelby, with support from local leaders in and around Clarke County like Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day.
Dr. John Eagerton of the Alabama Department of Transportation stated that “the project would not have advanced without the support and effort of Senator Shelby and his staff to gain final FAA approval for the new airport.”
The 2005 Alabama Statewide Airport System Plan revealed that southwest Alabama is underserved in terms of access to aviation infrastructure. As a result, the Alabama Department of Transportation’s Aeronautic Bureau worked with FAA and the Southwest Alabama Regional Airport Authority to conduct studies outlining an approach to meet the region’s aviation needs. These studies confirmed that the area was underserved and recommended the construction of a new general aviation airport in Clarke County.
“North Clarke County is located 60 miles from the closest interstate. The new Southwest Alabama Regional Airport is vital in closing the transportation gap for business and industry in our rural region,” Day said in a statement. “We want to sincerely thank Senator Shelby! He has been a strong advocate of this new airport and has long recognized the need for vital infrastructure in rural areas to accommodate new and expanding industries. We would also like to thank Gov. Ivey and Dr. John Eagerton for their unwavering dedication to seeing the vision for this airport become reality.”
Over the past decade, various companies have been or are in the process of investing over $550 million in facilities and infrastructure to support business operations in the Thomasville area. These investments have and will continue to support hundreds of jobs, and these businesses, as well as their vendors, suppliers and customers, rely on general aviation aircraft to support their commercial needs.
The new regional airport will allow local companies to enhance operations while also attracting new business to the area.
“The recent growth and economic investment in Thomasville and the surrounding areas have created an ideal environment to host the new Southwest Alabama Regional Airport,” Shelby said in a statement.
“I am grateful for the efforts of Mayor Day, Dr. Eagerton, and Gil Gilmore over the years as we have worked to make this vision possible. I am also proud that the Federal Aviation Administration has recognized the need for this airport, and I am confident this project will contribute to the economic vitality of the region for generations to come,” he continued.
Governor Kay Ivey especially highlighted Shelby’s work and outlined that the news is another major win for rural Alabama.
“It is always encouraging to see rural areas in our state take bold, giant steps and I congratulate Senator Richard Shelby and Mayor Sheldon Day for their work in getting the Southwest Alabama Regional Airport approved by the FAA,” she commented.
“Projects like this take a long time, a lot of patience and even more persistence,” the governor added. “My Administration is totally focused on helping rural Alabama compete whether it is in infrastructure, broadband or economic development, and we’ve recently seen several major developments come to rural Alabama.”
Ivey concluded, “Special thanks to Senator Shelby and our Federal Delegation for their help. As one who grew up in Alabama’s Black Belt, helping our rural areas is top priority of mine. I’m especially grateful for the leadership of Dr. John Eagerton, chief of the Aeronautics Bureau, at the Alabama Department of Transportation. John has been working for years to help Alabama’s airports and he worked tirelessly on this project as well.”
This comes the week following Shelby’s leadership as the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee helping Alabama secure three U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grants worth a total of approximately $30 million — one each for Madison County, Gulf Shores and Lauderdale County.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn