By SB Williams

Atlanta not only has the busiest airport in the country, but is poised to become a major center for what is considered by many of those in the world of aviation to be a growing phenomenon in the future of air travel – privately owned airplanes.

Owned not only by businesses (i.e. the familiar “corporate jet”), the skyways of the future will belong also to fortunate private citizens with pockets deep enough to afford the convenience and luxury of independent flight.

Last October, the New York Times published a full-page article about the National Business Aircraft Association’s meeting held jointly at Peachtree DeKalb Airport (PDK) in Chamblee and in Atlanta’s World Congress Center.

More than 26,000 buyers, sellers and exhibitors converged on Atlanta for the event, which is where one-third to one-half of all purchase deals for airplanes are made annually in this country.

“It is unlikely that Atlanta will be able to host this meeting again in the foreseeable future,” said Mike Van Wie, Director of Peachtree DeKalb Airport, “because we do not have enough hotel rooms. Twenty two thousand

rooms are needed – only can Las Vegas and Orlando, Florida offer that.”

At PDK this year, planes were on sale at prices beginning from $150,000 to $65,000,000. For the more ambitious, on display were B727’s refurbished and luxuriously outfitted to serve as a flying office and “virtual” hotel that could take the owner from Atlanta to Dubai without refueling.

For a company doing business around the globe, mobile offices and hotels offer the advantage of avoiding the wear and tear of commercial flying, security checks, luggage restrictions and possibly avoiding some customs inspections.

Although members of the aviation industry speak confidently about this new phenomenon in travel of the future, for the past two years the number of new planes sold has decreased by 5 percent and general aviation business has declined by 40 percent – all attributed to world financial uncertainty and to an increase in the price of fuel.

In 2006, there were 225,000 flights in and out of PDK.  In 2009, only 150,000, but 2010 saw an upward trend to 160,000. Each month at PDK, 225 medical flights serve hospitals in this area.

Leonard Harris – vice-president of Aero Club of Metro Atlanta, the 400-member organization of Atlantans who fly out of PDK – said the airport is “very unusual” in that it is second only to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in the South for airport traffic. It serves six counties: Cherokee, Cobb, Fulton, Clayton, Gwinnett, as well as DeKalb and the city of Cartersville.

“As Buckhead is the financial center of the South, the movers and shakers of the world come through here,” Harris said.

The PDK 6,000 foot runway allows a plane as large as the Boeing 737 to land, though weight as well as length will determine a plane’s permission to land. By far the most popular plane flying in and out of PDK is the Cessna – for businesses as well as private citizens.

PDK is one of the few self-sustaining airports in the South. No DeKalb County tax revenue goes to its support. Rather, it is sustained by income from some 225 leases to various businesses that operate at the airport ranging from huge Atlantic Aviation to the Federal Express drop off box and a percentage of the gross income from all fuel flowage.

Unlike commercial airports, they do not measure the number of people flying out of the airport, but are concerned with the number of planes that land and take off.

To board and maintain a small plane at PDK costs between $500 and $800 per month, and there are currently 365 small business planes based at the airport.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.