According to a press release on Wednesday from the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Maxwell Air Force Base has been selected by the United States Air Force to receive $18 million for the construction of a new air traffic control tower facility “for the purpose of force protection and safety.”
This comes on the heels of Maxwell landing the F-35 fleet and an Air Force innovation hub and signifies Montgomery’s growing military mission and worldwide impact. Construction is expected to begin in June 2019 and conclude December 2020.
In a statement, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense, lauded the Air Force’s investment.
“The Air Force’s decision to direct $18 million to Maxwell for a new air traffic control tower is outstanding news,” Shelby said. “This needed upgrade will increase the base’s functionality by improving the structural conditions and enhancing the safety and visibility of all operations. Without the replacement tower, the current facility’s health and safety issues could result in ground accidents and costly damage or loss of assets.”
He continued, “I applaud the Air Force on their decision to fund the project. As the second busiest distinguished visitor base in the nation, this funding is critical to maintaining and advancing Maxwell’s performance, particularly in light of its support for the F-35 fighter jet program.”
THE BIBB COUNTY AIRPORT
Bibb County’s struggling airport sits in the corner of what is known as the Birmingham MOA, a Military Operations Area. A MOA is airspace where the military routinely conducts low altitude training flights and aircraft maneuvers. Not surprisingly, the Birmingham MOA is the closest military training airspace area to Montgomery and Maxwell field. Military training flights have been seen doing practice approaches to Bibb County Airport on many occasions. They do not land at Bibb, for several reasons. The runway is too short, and there are no services available at Bibb County, including no fuel.
Private pilots who fly in Alabama airspace know what military training areas South of Bibb County mean to a few small airports that take advantage of the frequent military training that goes on in Alabama’s airspace. Small Airports at Monroeville, Bay Minette, Gulf Shores, Eufaula, & Dothan, for example, have a thriving business driven by military training flights that stop at their airports to rest, take meal breaks, and refuel. A high volume of the military training flights over Alabama are T-6’s that originate from the Air Force base in Columbus, MS, one of the largest training facilities still active in the U.S. These aircraft can land at small airports, such as Bibb County. And they usually need to re-fuel when they make stops.
The only other active airports in the Birmingham MOA are Vaiden (near Marion) and Greensboro. Demopolis and Selma are close but they are not in the MOA. Flights that originate in Columbus, MS usually stop somewhere in Alabama to refuel before they return to base at the end of their training run. They could be landing at Bibb County (0A8) if services were available. The Birmingham MOA is not the only military airspace, there are other training areas in the State.
The Air Force has made a long term commitment to Maxwell Field with the decision to base the F-35A program there. Bibb County has had an obvious need for a better airport to attract new industries to Bibb County since Mercedes made the decision to locate in Vance more than 20 years ago. For the next 20 years military training flights over Alabama airspace will be in a growth cycle, boosted by the location of the F-35A to Montgomery.
The City of Montgomery has announced a commitment to technology and innovation. In recent months, major milestones such as the 100 Gig Montgomery Internet Exchange, smart city and open data programs, a cyber innovation academy, and extensive investments in fiber infrastructure have resulted from the TechMGM initiative. These technology advancements have been made possible by leveraging the military’s commitment to Maxwell AFB and supporting the internet communication structure necessary to provide secure internet services to the military operation at Maxwell.
The automotive manufacturing complex located less than 20 miles North of Centreville and the Bibb County Airport may soon become the largest of its kind in the world.
According to the Alabama Department of Commerce: The Mercedes battery plant – twice the size of the original M-Class factory that opened in 1997 – will be a centerpiece in the automaker’s second Alabama campus in Bibb County. It will feature a battery analysis center that will accelerate the production ramp-up of electric vehicles and allow for the testing of battery packs that have been in use on the road.
Now under construction in the Scott Davis Industrial Park is the Mercedes Global Logistics Center that will support the company’s worldwide logistics operations for the products it makes in Alabama. After it opens next year, it will supply overseas assembly plants with kits used to produce vehicles for local markets.
Also in the works at Mercedes in Bibb County is a new after-sales North American hub that will provide spare parts to markets around the world once it becomes operational in late 2020.
Mercedes said the Bibb County campus will create a total of 600 jobs.
Now nearby in Montgomery, at Maxwell Field, the most complex, sophisticated, and technologically advanced military fighter aircraft in the world will soon be based about 40 air miles to our SouthEast.
The world feels like it is spinning faster and we see progress happening all around Centreville, Brent, West Blocton and all of South Bibb County but we remain on the perimeter of progress.
Meanwhile, at the Bibb County Airport the main entrance gate is locked.
The automatic electric gate that was installed with the boundary fence almost 10 years ago leads to nowhere.
There are no hangars for rent. There is no fuel for sale. There is no auto available for transportation.
There is no attendant, no one to monitor the Unicom frequency, no one to assist a pilot with information or an inflight emergency.
There is an information sign with a number to call for assistance visible from outside the fence. The grass does gets cut occasionally.
Much of the control of the airport formerly held by the Bibb County Airport Authority has been transferred to the County Commission. The County required the Airport Authority to transfer title by deed to all of the airport property to the County. The County controls all appointments to the Airport Authority.
One thing is clear for the foreseeable future: If South Bibb and its only county airport does not get on board soon we are likely to be crushed by the progress train or suffer the fate of the mythical or legendary lost City of Atlantis.
THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THE OPINIONS OF THE WRITER AND NOT NECESSARILY THE VIEWS OF THE BIBB VOICE OR ITS EDITORIAL BOARD. YOUR COMMENTS ARE INVITED AND ARE WELCOME.