Craig Field Airport & Industrial Complex
Business View Magazine interviews representatives from the Craig Field Airport & Industrial Complex, as part of our focus on regional American airports.
There is an airport, four miles southeast of Selma, Alabama, which is fully equipped, but almost empty. It’s the Craig Field Airport, a once thriving facility with an impressive history that, today, lies almost forgotten, and certainly underused. That’s a challenge that Jim Corrigan, a 23-year military veteran and former Delta pilot, and now the Executive Director of the Craig Field Airport & Industrial Authority, and Wayne Vardaman, the Senior Executive Director of the Selma and Dallas County Economic Development Authority, are seeking to take on: bringing the Craig Field Airport back to the glory days of yesteryear.
“In July 1940, the City Council, along with the Mayor, bought just under 2,000 acres of land,” Corrigan says, recounting the Airport’s early days. “And then, they leased it for one dollar to the government, which established the Selma Army Air Field. It slowly ramped up as a flight school and, in 1941, they graduated their first pilots. During the World War II time frame, there were 150 aircraft and over 2,500 personnel, and they trained over 11,000 pilots for the U.S., as well as our allies. In July 1941, it was named after Bruce Craig, a Selma native who died in a crash of a B24 Liberator heavy bomber. He was flying B24’s out of Oakland and crashed in San Diego. Then, during the Korean War, over 4,000 instructors and 700 pilots were trained.”
“In 1972, it was named the 29th Flying Training Wing, which trained pilots until it was closed down in 1977, and the Airport was converted to a maintenance depot,” Corrigan continues. “That is when they created the Craig Field Airport & Industrial Authority, and over the next 30 years, there have been a lot of businesses in and out.” In fact, at one point, Craig Field was the busiest airport in the world. At its height, it had over 95,500 flight hours per year and over 455,000 aircraft movements. Today, most of the infrastructure from that time still exists, but the Airport, itself, is severely underutilized.
Corrigan, though, still sees the possibilities. “Right now we have an 8,000-foot runway, with 1,000-ft. overruns on each end,” he explains, “and we are blessed with 70 acres of concrete out here. We have fire equipment and the latest instrument approaches. You can land the largest airplanes here, and our three hangars, combined, are well over 100,000 square feet. Not only that, but since we are an old Air Force base, we have 300 homes on the property. There is a 720-acre business park served by rail. Everything you could possibly need is here, and on top of that, we have uncongested air space. But, there are only 10 general aviation aircraft home-based here, and we also have a military fuel contract and some military traffic. So, there is the possibility of so much more.”
Operated by the Craig Field Airport & Industrial Authority, the business park is complete with paved roads, utilities, fire protection, perimeter fencing, and rail access. Central to the complex is the airfield with a lighted runway, capable of handling C-130 and 747/777 sized aircraft, new hangars, and 70 acres of tie-downs. “As far as the industrial side, we pretty much have what we need,” Vardaman notes. “We have a lot of land, we have rail that runs right through the park, and close to the four-lane highway. We don’t have direct water access but there’s a river (the Alabama River) four miles from here. It is the perfect location to situate a business.”
And so, with the two large cities of Montgomery and Birmingham nearby; hundreds of underutilized Airport acres and thousands more that can potentially be bought and repurposed; newly resurfaced runway & taxi-ways; hangars and other properties available; abatements available on sales, use, manufacturing and equipment, and ad valorem taxes; a capital credit program that provides qualified businesses with income tax credits; the availability of Alabama Industrial Development Training through Wallace Community College; and an underemployed labor force of 90,000 within 40 miles of Selma with skills in manufacturing, aviation, construction, communications, and retail, Craig Field Airport is truly a diamond in the rough.
“We are a diamond, but there is no question that we are in the rough,” Corrigan admits. “This is an airfield that was built during World War II. I’ve got buildings that were built in the ’40s; buildings boarded up; buildings knocked down to the foundations. I have been here since last November and I have had to set the vision – and that vision is, let’s remove the foundations and tear down the buildings. Let’s work on the curb appeal, pressure wash the concrete, and make it all look brand new. I’ve just been awarded a grant to remove the foundations; phase two and three is to remove the buildings that are in the way – turn it into the grass, and make it more appealing to customers.”
“This field would be perfect for a training base,” adds Vardaman. “It was designed for that and we have all the hangars designed for training planes. This airfield is the best untapped resource in the southeast. And we are move-in ready.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Craig Field Airport
WHAT: A general aviation airport and business park
WHERE: Selma, Alabama