When flying in or out of the Baldwin County Regional Airport, Bruce Hood is likely to be the first friendly face anyone sees.
And Hood wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m the first guy that’s going to smile and make you feel welcomed at the Baldwin County Regional Airport,” said Hood during a recent interview with The Union-Recorder. “This place is the first impression they’re going to get from Baldwin County.”
Hood considers himself a people person.
And for those who know him, that’s exactly what they think of him.
Take Chip Williams, a well-known airplane pilot from Jones County, who flies in and out of the local airport almost daily and who works for Ted Smith, a well-known Milledgeville businessman.
“Bruce brings a great personality to our airport,” said Williams. “He’s able to talk with people when they land — ‘Hey, how are you doing.’ His motivation and willingness to just jump in there and do anything is really something special.”
Such genuine friendliness can take the airport a long, long way, said Williams.
“We all believe that Bruce brings to the table a great, positive attitude and a real desire to help people in general, whatever it might be,” said Williams.
Hood worked in manufacturing engineering at Triumph in Milledgeville for 38 years before retiring last October.
Although he wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do when he retired, one thing was for certain: Hood said he knew he wasn’t just going to sit around and do nothing.
It wasn’t long before he learned that Spirit Aviation, which is owned and operated by Ashley Smith, along with county officials, was looking for someone to manage the local airport. Smith is the licensed fixed-based operator, and so it seemed the perfect fit for Hood, who immediately was interested and assumed the airport manager position on Jan. 1.
“It was a gradual thing,” Hood recalled before he actually became the new airport manager. “It took a couple of months to actually look into all of it before we had that Jan. 1 takeover date.”
Hood pointed out that one of the things he brought to the table when talking to Smith, Baldwin County Manager Carlos Tobar, and county commissioners shortly before Christmas was he wanted to be the first guy that people saw when they got out of an airplane when landing at the airport.
“They (commissioners) wanted to meet with me because they knew that I was interested in becoming the new airport manager,” said Hood, noting when he first approached about the job by others one of the first people that he met with afterward was Tobar. “I said, hey, this is what I bring, I said I bring the first face and I don’t care who walks off that airplane — and you never know who's going to get off it — I’m that face they’re going to see. And I’m also the last person that those businesspeople are going to see when they come to this town.”
Hood said he placed a huge emphasis on the first impression.
Asked how important that first impression really is at the airport, Hood wasted no time in responding.
“First impression is a really big thing,” Hood said. “And what can I do for you?”
Hood said a lot of visitors flying into the Baldwin County Regional Airport don’t know anything at all about Baldwin County or Milledgeville.
“One of the first things visitors want to know about is where can they find a restroom because they’ve been sitting on a plane for a while,” said Hood. “And the No. 2 thing they want to know about is where can they go to eat.”
Those are generally the first two questions he hears from visitors.
“I’m working on trying to put together a list of local restaurants and areas that are looking for that type of business from us here at the airport,” said Hood.
He said he is in the process of creating a map that would provide airport visitors with a list of restaurants and other eateries in the area, including some out of the county since the airport is now regionalized and facilitates people in several surrounding counties as well.
“We’re the airport for a lot of the counties around us, including Putnam, Hancock, Jones and Wilkinson counties,” said Hood. “We are it. There are no other airports around us.”
One of the only other closest airports is Greene County Regional Airport, which is located near Greensboro.
When it comes to the airport in Greene County, Hood said he views it as a shared service between the two airports.
“We share our services with them and they share their services with us,” said Hood. “Sometimes people choose here instead of there. We are not here to take their work or their jobs or their revenue, it just may be logistically closer for a client to be in Milledgeville than it is in Greene County. It comes down to how far you want to drive a car.”
Hood also wants accommodations and points of interests as well to provide to visitors when they fly into the local airport.
“We have some college students’ parents who fly into the airport and we get sports figures from different colleges — be it coaches or players,” said Hood. “But what I try to sell about Milledgeville and Baldwin County is that there’s a lot more here than colleges. And there’s more to Milledgeville than what meets the eye.”
Hood said he wanted visitors to know where the Club at Lake Sinclair is located and other places if they are looking for high-class restaurants to dine.
He said he’s hoping that Alex Ferrand, who is assisting him with the creation of the restaurant map, will have it ready to roll out by early spring, just in time for such events in the area as The Masters golf tournament in Augusta, and other events, including ones in the Sunshine State of Florida.
“We think that’s perfect timing to roll it out,” said Hood.
The airport offers rental car service, too.
He said running the airport is like a dream come true for him because as a boy, he was fascinated with airplanes, which was one of the main reasons he wanted and actually made a career in that industry.
His philosophy of operating the county airport as its new manager is to make it a welcoming environment for anyone who flies in or simply drives up to the airport.
“It’s not my airport,” Hood said. “It’s Baldwin County’s airport, and if you’re a resident of Baldwin County or living anywhere around here, this is your airport, too. And it’s here to enjoy.”
The airport has a new fuel farm convenient for those with credit cards, as well as a fuel truck.
There also are several hangers and the hope of new hangers yet to be built in the near future, along with a flight-teaching school facility nearby.
Hood, a longtime Milledgeville resident, is married to Amy Hood, who works at the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Eatonton. The couple has two daughters and they are members of Northridge Christian Church in Milledgeville, where Bruce operates the sound system and lighting.