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Airport readies for tourney traffic

Masters Week is just around the corner and the red carpet will be rolled out for guests flying into the Thomson-McDuffie Regional Airport.

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Literally.

"We have red carpets that we do lay for when (visitors) step off the airplanes," said airport Fixed-Base Operator James Lyle.

With the busiest time in the CSRA only a few days away, airport and county tourism officials are busy preparing for a swarm of corporate and celebrity visitors. If it's anything like last year, McDuffie County will play host to some very familiar faces.

Last year's Masters champion Mike Weir flew out of McDuffie County only hours after winning the coveted title.

"He was the last one to leave on Sunday. He drove up in a white Cadillac and left around midnight," said Mr. Lyle. "And no, he did not have on the green jacket."

Flying into the airport for the Masters last year were actor Bill Murray, golfer Nancy Lopez, Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, as well as representatives from Paramount Pictures.

And Mr. Lyle said he hopes things will only get bigger -- and better -- this year.

"For retail merchants, their holiday season is the end of the year. This is our holiday season," he said, adding that he expects around a 50 percent increase in traffic from last year, which will undoubtedly include more celebrities and more corporate hotshots.

And McDuffie County will be ready. Local tourism officials will be at the terminal throughout the week serving as guides, directing visitors to local hotels and restaurants. They'll also be giving out bottled water with McDuffie County information printed on the label.

It's all part of a well-orchestrated blitz designed to not only bring people into McDuffie County, but to make them remember it when they leave.

Mr. Lyle said that a heavy marketing campaign has been underway for months to help bring more people to the airport.

"We've done a tremendous amount of marketing. We've had two mailings to every company in the U.S. that owns aircraft, making them aware of our community," he said. "We want to let them know that we can land an aircraft here and get them to the Masters faster than anywhere in Augusta."

Speed and convenience is probably the airport's biggest selling point, according to Mr. Lyle. He said that last year, there was such congestion at Bush Field that planes would taxi for an hour or more after they landed.

"Even on a non-Masters week, we're faster than Bush Field, because of the nature of commercial traffic and the nature of the airport, by the time they land it takes a while to taxi up and get situated. Here, usually five minutes from the time they hit the runway, they're in their car and on their way," he said.

Also important is airport security, something that has been vastly improved since last year.

"We're also putting in security fencing that will isolate the ramp and runway environment from the airport terminal and parking lot. We're installing a new security gate that's electronically controlled for us, because aviation security is real high on everybody's list right now," said Mr. Lyle.

Full catering, as well as a shuttle and limousine service will be available to visitors. All in all, this April should be a busy month for airport officials.

"With our enhanced amenities and close proximity to the masters, our mission is letting the corporate aviation market know that we are a more attractive facility for people to come into," said Mr. Lyle.



Web posted on Thursday, March 25, 2004


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