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Atmore Airport: Runway of change

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
Many small towns across Alabama have used an airport as a selling point to prospective businesses and industry looking to build or relocate. For 40 years the Atmore Airport has been through the same processes, but the times have changed and so has the airport.
The Atmore Airport has a similar history to the other small-town airports in the state. It was built in 1960 with help from a ten-cent sales tax on aviation fuel. The tax was the brainchild of Asa Rountree who was the head of the Department on Aeronautics in the late 50s and on into the 60s. His goal was to place at least one airport in every county in Alabamahe, thanks to the tax, was successful in achieving that goal. But, Escambia County was fortunate to have two airports-one in Atmore and the other in Brewton.
Since its infancy, Robert Earl Godwin has been active in most of the activity at the airport. He has been the fixed base operator and manager of the airport since the early 1960s. As the fixed base operator, Godwin leases the airport from the local government and runs a business, Atmore Flying Service, Inc., out of the facility. As manager, he is in charge of general upkeep and maintenance such as runway upkeep and mowing.
Currently, day-to-day operations at the airport include aircraft maintenance, aircraft fuel sale and aerial applications. Godwin said he thinks many people would be surprised at how busy the Atmore Airport can be.
Two of the most frequent flyers in and out of the airport are Masland and Vanity Fair.
But, the airport has not always been a primary tool for industry. After the opening of the small-town airports many people were interested in flying and these airfields provided them with the opportunity to do so.
These days, even if a plane could be afforded, it is often difficult to find an instructor to help the individual earn their pilot license and if one is found, it is also a very expensive process. The rising costs put an end to the private owners renting hangar space and taking off and touching down in Atmore.
Almost every company that is looking to move into a community now is interested in the capacities and potentials of the nearest airport. It is much cheaper for them to fly their people in and out if the town they are looking at has an airport.
Trying to stay up-to-date has been a goal for the city and Godwin who says that the airport made great strides a few years ago with a few upgrades and improvements.
But, in order to continue with the proposed industrial park there is another addition that would have to be made in order for it to succeed. An instrument lighting system, which helps a plane land in marginal weather has been a recent goal for the airport. Currently, if the weather is not cooperative, pilots must land at another airport-either Mobile or Pensacola.
Right now, with a runway of 4,975 feet and 80 feet long, the airport can handle almost any business jet or smaller planes.
But, before an airport industrial park is built, Godwin said it should be modeled after other, already successful parks.