Delta vs. Paulding County

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The fight over a second airport for metro Atlanta continues. A Paulding County official says limited commercial service at Silver Comet Field will stoke the local economy. But a Delta executive writes that once a second airport develops — no matter how small — it damages prospects at the primary airport, in this case Hartsfield-Jackson.

Commenting is open.

Delta obstructing Paulding’s growth

By David Austin

Atlanta’s economic success has always been tied to transportation. Originally founded as a railroad hub, one of the primary reasons for the city’s success has been its aggressive pursuit of new transportation opportunities to keep our region open for business.

However, Delta Air Lines’ recent comments on the development of commercial service at Paulding County’s airport show the company is intent on shutting down new opportunities for growth. Last week’s letter from a Delta senior vice president claimed that bringing more airline competition to metro Atlanta would hurt the region’s economy.

That’s a tough sell in a city that has thrived by developing a healthy, competitive business environment. Promoting an anti-competitive agenda and then claiming it is in the best interests of the region, and not your own company, isn’t going to hold water with people in this town.

Furthermore, this debate over competition is overblown and distracting from the reality of the situation. Nobody is talking about building another Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Paulding County. What we are talking about is bringing limited commercial service, along with other developments related to the aerospace industry, to a small airport. That means two or three flights a week to start, with the possibility of growing to a few flights a day.

Delta’s statement that the Paulding airport will hurt Hartsfield-Jackson is like the New York Yankees saying a new Little League field will hurt Yankee Stadium and, in turn, the economy of New York City. In fact, Louis Miller, Hartsfield-Jackson’s own general manager, said that the Paulding airport, and any future commercial traffic there, will have minimal impact to Hartsfield-Jackson. No doubt Delta wishes he wasn’t on record saying that in this very paper.

Delta is also claiming the airport would have a negative impact on Paulding taxpayers. Would that be the impact of 2,000 to 3,000 new jobs or the additional $350 million a year added to our economy? We already have a $50 million commodity in this airport; why not maximize it with development that will be 90 percent paid for the by the FAA?

I am a Paulding County taxpayer, and the only negative impact I’m concerned about are the legal fees associated with the underhanded stall tactics Delta is throwing in front of this project. When one of the local plaintiffs who filed a recent suit was asked who is paying for the expensive attorneys handling the case, the response was, “I’ve been instructed not to tell.” If Delta is really concerned about our taxpayers, perhaps they should refrain from placing these unnecessary burdens in our path.

The ironic part about Delta proudly proclaiming the benefits of the “world’s busiest airport” is that, to regular folks, that sounds like an airport they want to avoid. Right now, they don’t have that choice. In a region with more than 6 million people, surely there is room for a small airport offering affordable, direct flights for people who don’t like the thought of dealing with the “world’s busiest” anything.

David Austin is chairman of the Paulding County Commission.

Second airport saps power of primary

By Holden Shannon

For more than seven decades, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport has been metro Atlanta’s most powerful economic engine. Since its beginnings in 1925 as a small airfield constructed on an abandoned racetrack, it has evolved into the world’s busiest airport. It has more flights and destinations than any other major U.S. airport, bringing an estimated $58 billion annually in total economic benefits to the region and supporting tens of thousands of jobs statewide.

The airport is home to Delta Air Lines’ largest international hub, where we connect passengers from around the world with nonstop flights to cities like London, Paris, São Paulo and Tokyo. Southwest Airlines also has a major presence at Hartsfield, as do international carriers from around the globe.

That kind of service is very attractive for businesses and entrepreneurs who increasingly compete in a global arena. In recent years, major companies including Newell Rubbermaid, First Data and NCR have relocated to Georgia thanks in part to Atlanta’s extensive international and domestic service.

Hartsfield-Jackson is larger than airports in cities that have much bigger populations, like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas. The reason Hartsfield-Jackson has achieved this position is in large part because of its status as the region’s sole commercial airport.

Airline hubs work only if they can connect a large volume of traffic, combined with a strong local base of travelers. On every arriving flight, some passengers connect to other flights, providing support for an expansive network of nonstop destinations.

In cities where secondary airports operate, these smaller airports siphon traffic flow from hubs at the primary airports and ultimately reduce the number of flights and destinations that can be successfully operated. They also reduce airport revenues in the form of landing fees, concession revenues and parking charges, which are needed to support development of the primary airport.

That’s why Atlanta’s travelers and businesses should be concerned about plans to open a second passenger airport in Paulding County.

Hartsfield-Jackson has capacity for more service. Delta has said we will work with the airport and new entrant airlines to ensure they have access to gates and facilities at Hartsfield-Jackson. And a 2011 study conducted by the airport for the FAA concluded that a second airport in metro Atlanta was not economically viable.

While stated plans for the Paulding County airport are for a small, limited service, once the region begins a second-airport model, there’s no going back. A second airport can quickly expand, and the impact on Hartsfield-Jackson would be significant, with the potential of many international and domestic flights no longer being viable as traffic is siphoned away.

That’s a threat to Atlanta’s economy, its jobs and its status as an international city. Leaders across metro Atlanta should think long and hard about the long-term impact — and consider what we see in other cities — before going down this road.

Holden Shannon is senior vice president for corporate strategy and real estate for Delta Air Lines.

4 comments Add your comment


December 2nd, 2013
7:38 pm

PC Native mentioned bring jobs to Paulding – Which number do you believe? 20,000 or 2,000 Paulding county commissioners have stated both with in two weeks of each other. My point is – The Paulding County commissioners have not developed and addressed the basic requirements for a project of this size. There are NO program management functions for this project. I’m neither for or against the project but without these tools the project has about a 90% probability of failing and over-running both budget and schedule. They do not have a:
1) Business Case Analysis nor cost trade off to see if this is even a viable project to execute
2) They have not developed an Integrated Master Plan that has the entire program defined and laid out over time with the critical path developed. This is where you determine how much money and time is required to complete the project.
3) With no critical path, they have not completed a risk assessment nor developed mitigation strategies for the identified risks. This means that they have not looked at the possibilities of what COULD happen to impact the project, and what to do to keep the problems from occurring and what it would cost (schedule and monetarily) if it does occur.
4) I have looked at several budgets for the fire station and EMS facilities and the budgets do not have Management reserves. This tells me they plan to hit every budget exactly on the dollar budgeted. Anyone ever done a weekend project from Home depot that came out exactly on budget – Try building a home then compare it to the Airport expansion? Think it will happen?

Red Flags:
The first thing that raises a red flag to me is the fire station. It is advertised support the airport flight operations and the surrounding community homes. Fact – Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) have totally different qualifications than residential fire fighting. They will have to have dual training and certification if they are expected to respond to dual duty fire fighting. Dobbins AFB, Lockheed Martin and the old Naval Air station relied on the city of Marietta to support their non aircraft fire fighting. Plus, The ARFF crews can not leave the field during operational hour’s of the airport.. OBTW They can not access homes across the runway geographically – no road access from the north side

Second – with out a business case, no quantitative number of new jobs can be predicted. I’ve heard that the airport authority said there will be 2 flights per day. That will not equate to 200 jobs – sorry, The math just don’t add up. Looks like an “Arm Waving” exercise to pump up support.

Third and most critical – Trust. The Airport Authority condemned the land of Andres Weaver under emanate domain. Mr. Weaver sued Paulding County and won $3.5 M for his land! This is the land the airport is built on. Mr Weaver presented appraisal documents that showed the value of his land as for a commercial airport. The head of the Airport Authority, Blake Swaford, testified at the trial that the Paulding County airport would NEVER GO to commercial operations and Andres Weaver could never obtain the zoning on his own. The main reason was (the airport commission) was trying to keep the airport general aviation and to keep Delta out which would keep the airport from becoming commercial! The jury was instructed, by the judge, NOT to consider the value of the land as a commercial airport property because the airport authority statement that the airport would NEVER become commercial!
It’s not commercial when it is convenient for them and it is profitable and convenient for them.

Second item of trust and just an observation – The top 10 dollar value contracts issued for the new ARFF station were also the top contributors to several commissioners election campaigns? Just an observation.

If the Paulding County Airport Authority develops the basic Program Management and business tools mentioned above and can show a LOGICAL business case analysis (Return on Investment) I’m for it but DO IT RIGHT the first time. should be example enough of poor management skills!

The Other Dallas

November 27th, 2013
8:30 am

The whole idea that Hartsfield Jackson’s status as the world’s busiest airport has been the reason that Metro Atlanta’s economy has boomed and that losing that status would be detrimental to future business growth is laughable and insulting to the people of this region. As pointed out by Mr. Austin Paulding is not looking to do anything at its airport that would even make a dent in Hartsfield Jackson’s operations. Furthermore, the region’s economy has experienced strong growth since the 1970’s because of our outstanding business climate, excellent workforce, interstate and air access, universities such as Georgia Tech and outstanding quality of life. Hartsfield Jackson’s opportunities for business travelers and the role it has played in the region’s development won’t be impacted at all by the expansion of Paulding’s airport.

Hartsfield Jackson will soon lose it’s status as the world’s busiest airport to Beijing. Does Mr. Anderson and the rest of his executive at Delta believe this will destroy the region’s ability to grow? What a laughable notion. Additionally, while it is technically correct to say Atlanta has the world’s busiest airport those of us that follow these issues know other metro areas such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York far outpace Atlanta’s air traffic when you combine all of the airport’s serving those regions.

To suggest that retaining the claim as the world’s busiest airport should be a driving force in restricting economic opportunities that will benefit other parts of Metro Atlanta is very disingenuous and shows a clear lack of leadership and vision from Delta CEO Richard Anderson. He has no business serving as the next Chairman of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce if that his mindset. With his legal actions to restrict economic growth in the region and taking on one of the region’s counties the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s board should take decisive action on this matter and remove Mr. Anderson from this upcoming role with the chamber. It is the right thing to and totally appropriate.

PC Native

November 26th, 2013
9:06 am

This is about bringing JOBS to Paulding County. Delta needs leave Paulding alone. In a true democracy everyone should have the ability to compete in the marketplace. Can we say antitrust! Thank you David Austin for standing up to a BULLY!


November 25th, 2013
4:39 pm

While it seems the people of Paulding County have plenty of reason to be irritated with the way this issue was handled I’m not sure Delta necessarily has their best interest at heart. I’m also somewhat suspect of all the forecasted growth the airport expansion will bring. However, this seems like an issue for Paulding voters to decide and not potential competitors.