Gwinnett County began its flight into aviation in 1966 when a 3,000-foot long concrete runway was laid down in what had been a 70-acre wooded tract of land just two miles northeast of the county seat of Lawrenceville. Along with the 3,000 foot runway, the first phase of development also included a 4,800-square-foot building for the Fixed Base Operator (FBO), four paved tie-down areas and a paved apron area near the mid-point of the runway.
In 1971, the Georgia General Assembly created the Gwinnett County Airport Authority to assume management of the airport’s activities. Each of the Authority members is appointed by a county commissioner and serves a term concurrent with the commissioner. The original five Authority members were: Jones Webb, chairman; Wiley Puckett, Robert Underwood, Wayne Hill, and Hugh Britt.
In 1972, Gwinnett political and community leader, Thomas W. Briscoe began 12 years of progressive leadership as the Airport Authority’s chairman. Briscoe, who was appointed to the authority by then County Commission Chairman Wayne Mason, had been mayor and a member of the City Council of Snellville and a member of the Executive Committee of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce. Ironically, Briscoe had a strong personal fear and dislike of flying, but he still led the airport through the drafting of two airport master plans, and multiple development projects to improve the airport.
Upon his death in 1984, his many contributions to the airport were honored by changing the name to Gwinnett County Airport – Briscoe Field. Dr. James G. Davis, appointed as the new chairman, told reporters at ceremonies marking the name change: “Gwinnett County was fortunate to have a man of Tom Briscoe’s caliber as a citizen. Without him, our realities would still be just a dream.”
In the early 1970s, the need for an improved FBO facility was recognized. In 1973, aviator and aircraft mechanic Robert Mancini opened Roman Aviation, the first FBO located at the airport. In 1978, the original 4,800 square-foot building was replaced with a 100-foot by 100-foot hangar with a 30-foot-by-120-foot attached lean-to and the addition of a full service fuel farm.
It was also in 1978 that the original runway was widened and lengthened to 4,000 feet. A full parallel taxiway was also added at this time. The addition of 1,000 feet allowed owners of small corporate jets to use the airport.
In 1981, the County constructed a 20,000 square-foot FBO maintenance hangar, just north of the existing building constructed in 1978.These two buildings are still in use today as the Gwinnett Aero FBO offices and maintenance hangars.
In 1987, the Airport Authority hired Mr. Scott B. Fuller as the airport’s first full-time airport manager. Under Fuller’s leadership, the airport constructed a new runway that was 6,000 feet long by 100 feet wide of grooved asphalt, which was opened on April 4, 1991.
On December 24, 1996, the airport dedicated its Air Traffic Control Tower. The tower is part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Contract Air Traffic Control Tower Program.
As a part of this program, the County provides the building and equipment necessary for the air traffic controllers, and the FAA provides the controllers through a contract with a private company. All of the controllers working at Gwinnett County Airport are either retired military controllers or retired FAA controllers. Contract controllers must meet all the same training and safety standards as FAA employees, but because they do not have the same benefits as federal government employees, the cost to staff the tower is significantly less.
In 2004, the County completed a partial parallel taxiway on the north side of the airport to compliment the full parallel taxiway on the south side. Then the airport began a series of repairs to the existing infrastructure that had previously been put in place. These projects included repaving the airport’s runway, repainting the airport’s markings, clearing trees and other obstructions on the airport, repaving the south side taxiway, and repairing and replacing equipment in the Air Traffic Control Tower.