By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – The Tupelo Airport Authority had a special-called meeting Monday, ostensibly to talk about the deteriorating old runway being used by a major tenant.
Last week, the Daily Journal reported that the airport needed $700,000 for permanent repairs for the old runway so that it can support large aircraft – including massive Boeing 747s – that were landing in Tupelo and being disassembled by Universal Asset Management.
Memphis-based UAM sells engines and other plane components and parts to customers around the world and recycles about 90 percent of the plane.
But once the planes land on the airport’s main runway – which recently completed a $5.2 million extension – they must traverse portions of the old runway that has seen much better days.
The pavement on the old runway is cracked and shattered in several places, and a 400,000-pound 747 can be – and has – gotten stuck. And with engines being tested after landing, it’s not ideal to have loose chunks of pavement that can be sucked into the engines and/or thrown about.
UAM has promised 100 jobs within three years and now employs 70, but it has concerns about the old runway’s condition. Without a fix, it can’t land more planes.
“We made agreements with the city and state to employ people, and creating jobs is directly tied to having airplanes,” said Keri Wright, UAM’s chief operating officer, last week.
Those concerns no doubt spilled over into Monday’s meeting.
However, while four of the five board members attended, the group went into executive session twice to discuss “lease matters.”
Between the sessions, the board, along with airport Executive Director Josh Abramson and board attorney John Hill, took a quick walking tour of the cracked and pitted runway.
Abramson pointed out the poor condition of the pavement even with a small crop duster plane flown by Jerry Webb of Webb’s Flying Service sitting on part of it.
The board members saw pavement conditions worsen the further they walked out onto the runway.
Board members did not comment about their meeting, but Abramson said, “Our jobs is to do what we can to facilitate our tenants by the best ways possible. We reviewed areas where Jerry Webb and UAM operate their aircraft.
“Right now we’re putting together the right information for all the stakeholders involved.”
Abramson said no decision had been made yet as far as what to do with the old runway. UAM is scheduled to receive another plane in the next week or so.
“Time is of the essence, and we’ll do what we can as quickly as we can,” he said.
The airport has come up with a temporary solution, costing about $20,000, that uses a mixture of aggregate, asphalt and other materials spread over the surface. Thick steel metal plates also have been used to place over large dips and other problem areas.