PDK celebrated its centennial last year. It began as a cavalry station in World War I, and then served as a naval air station in World War II. The military handed the site over to civilian control in 1959. Today, it ranks as the second-busiest airport in Georgia.
Sprawled across 745 acres, it comprises three runways, 100 hangars, 409 aviation-based businesses, and seven flight schools. PDK has averaged 230,000 takeoffs and landings annually for more than 30 years, or around 550 per day. It is also home to Angel Flight Soars, a nonprofit that coordinates a network of 1,000 pilots who transport medical patients to out-of-state hospitals.
“PDK really functions as a small city, and I’m the mayor,” says Mario Evans, airport director, noting that its economic impact for metro Atlanta is $211.7 million. “We try to be good neighbors in our community. Local kids play at our park every day, year-round, and thousands of people come to the air shows [Good Neighbor Day Airshow and Warbird Weekend are two popular events] and open-houses we have several times a year, with the Blue Angels and other acrobatic air performers. You can talk with the pilots and check out what 75 vendors are selling. There’s always something interesting going on here every day.”
And you don’t have to stay earthbound. Two businesses (Prestige Helicopters and Helicopter Rides of Atlanta) offer visitors sight-seeing helicopter rides—you can get close to the bas relief sculptures on Stone Mountain. For a more retro experience, check out Biplanes Over Atlanta, which provides views of downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain, and Lake Lanier in a 1930s-era, open-cockpit biplane designed for two passengers. “For couples, we recommend the ‘romantic sunset tour,’” says owner Steve “Old Boy” Collins. “You can watch the sun slip below the horizon as the lights come on in Atlanta.”