Tuscaloosa airport set to expand


Planes come and go at the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, but there is a $1 million grant to make flying in and out easier on gamedays. / CW | Bethany Martin

Jennie Kushner

The Tuscaloosa Regional Airport will break ground on a $1 million taxiway extension next week, helping to accommodate game day travelers.

The grant was awarded to the city-owned airport by the Airport Improvement Projects, which provides grants to public agencies for the planning and development of public use airports, airport manager Wayne Cameron said.

“The new taxiway is for safety and convenience,” he said. “Currently, planes have to back taxi; it’s like turning around on the street, but it’s in the middle of the runway.”

Cameron said the taxiway is the area where airplanes taxi to get to and from a runway or terminal.

“On a game weekend, depending on the team the Tide is playing, we could have as many as 200 or 300 planes leaving after the game,” he said. “A lot of times we have to close the short runway to park the planes, because we run out of space.” 

Cameron said getting the grant has been a long process.

“We gave the AIP a list of 15 things we wanted done five years in advance,” he said. “It’s a multiple step process.”

The first grant the airport received was several years ago to do an environmental assessment to ensure the land was suitable for building, Cameron said.

The second grant was for engineers to design the physical plans of the new taxiway. The third part is the $1 million site preparation.

“The $1 million is only to move the dirt and prepare the area for the fourth grant, which is the paving, marking and lighting,” he said.

 The airport has 120 days to complete this part of the grant, Cameron said, and, regardless of the construction, the airplanes will not experience any further delays.

The addition will open up the southern side of the airport, which was built in the 1920s.

The Tuscaloosa Regional Airport sits on 724 acres. It is one of eight airports in the state that has a call tower.

Cameron said game weekends at the airport can be hectic, yet exciting.

“It depends on the team we are playing,” he said. “If it is a team like LSU, Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma — people that have money — they bring a lot of planes.

“LSU usually has the most planes; some of their alumni charter several 757 jets,” he said.

On a typical game weekend, Cameron said most planes leave by 1:30 a.m. He said when LSU visits, it is well after 2 a.m. when everyone leaves.

Students who know about the airport said they’re pleased to hear about the addition.

“The Tuscaloosa airport is crucial to this town, especially on game days,” said Henry Fox, a sophomore majoring in business. “After flying in and out with my parents several times, I know that traffic can get hectic on the runway. The new taxiway is crucial to the safety and convenience of private plane flyers.”

Maggie Avent, a junior majoring in fashion retail, said she didn’t know there was a Tuscaloosa airport.

“I am not from Tuscaloosa, so I didn’t even know that there was an airport here,” Avent said. “I guess it is good they got the grant since our town seems to be getting increasingly more crowded on game days.”

Another student cited the number of wrecks that occur on game days as a valid reason to build the taxiway.

“Look at the traffic and accidents on University Boulevard on a game weekend,” said John Haney, a senior majoring in political science. “I can’t imagine what it would be like on a small runway. This addition is much needed”