Airport mulls old runway solution

After years of neglect and patchwork, the old runway at Tupelo Regional Airport must be repaired to handle the weight and use of Universal Asset Management. (Thomas Wells)

After years of neglect and patchwork, the old runway at
Tupelo Regional Airport must be repaired to handle the
weight and use of Universal Asset Management. (Thomas Wells)

By Dennis Seid
Daily Journal

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.

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  • TupeloRob

    UAM is going to wind up being a bigger drain than they are worth. Not only is it ugly seeing the skeletons of so many jets lying around but I seriously question whether they are meeting what they have promised in community employment. I have heard they are using a lot of contract and part-time employment which do not include full-time hours, nor any benefits. I guarantee you that UAM “employing” 70 people is not the same as 70 FTE’s.

  • fairorright

    Yesterday’s “show and tell” should have been called, “look at what a mess we made but we knew we would, help!.” Now will the Mayor, City Council and the TAA Board believe yet another tale of poor planning and mismanagement by the airport’s Spin Doctor? For the taxpayers’ well being, because this is just the beginning of another fiasco, I hope not. Let’s look at the deception, falsehoods and misrepresentation.

    There’s $2.4M in debt left at the airport, not $3.3M. Payments for the FBO loan began in 2007. The FBOs at Tupelo were acquired by a deal brokered by a TAA board member Bo Gibens, Mayor Neelly and attorneys for the FBOs and Jerry Webb. Like banks who purchase other banks
    to consolidate and improve operations the parent bank expects the acquired operations to provide a net margin for the business. Through 2009, the FBO, Tupelo Aviation Unlimited (TAU), operating proceeds paid for the loan. Director Abramson and the Board, in order to make it appear the FBO was producing a better return than it was, relieved the FBO of making those payments in 2011. However, for the past fourteen months, no payments have been paid to the City who holds the note. TAA owes the City over $150K here.

    Payments for the AASF loan for $1.8M, oops $1.5M since the city already paid $300K on that, were to be paid by lease rent when they began their operation in May/Jun 2011. As long as the ARNG were in the building and were not ready to move any time soon, the payments were being made by the State. At the time the UAM deal was consummated, the loan had been reduced to
    $1.3M. Abramson forced the trigger for TAA payments by evicting the Guard. Now the real travesty. The airport receives the rent from UAM but it hasn’t paid the City for the loan payment for over 14 months. The AASF loan was to be paid by lease rent but the Director really goofed this one up. The rent appears to be calculated minus ground rent under the buildings and based on the loan value vice the value of the rented structure. It should be double what it is. He uses accounting anomalies calling them abatements and discounts to hide the errors. TAA owes the City nearly $100K here.

    The old runway has seen much better days but it never was designed or constructed to withstand more than 50,000 pounds let alone 400,000 pounds. It states that the chunks and debris would be sucked down engines or thrown about. Webb’s aircraft should be the only turning engine on that surface. The junks have turned engines up on the operating runway and on the commercial ramp causing aircraft to be blown about on the FBO ramp and debris to be scattered everywhere. The repair will not be permanent and will not allow 747s to conduct engine acceptance turn-ups there.

    What did the comment about Webb’s agricultural plane have to do with the damage? It’s true the fuel venting and his chemicals have caused some damage in the past but the crop dusting aircraft weight is not even a factor. Maybe it’s because that damage was repaired on the
    taxpayer’s dime as well.

    “The airport has come up with a temporary solution….” They have been using steel plates from the beginning. The plates and the rock were ridiculous remedial actions. This is absurd. It did
    not work so it’s not a solution. It’s another wasted $40K like the trees and other attempted fixes around the airfield. This is why the current airport management team is doomed. There is no planning ability, no repair skills, no maintenance expertise and no knowledge about maintenance. All this Director can do is use rhetoric and deception to lay blame on the previous administration. After the accidents, the false incursion report, the audit and accounting nightmare, the removal of the airport tower manager, the firing and forced resignation without due process of the Personnel Manual Instructions and countless other infractions, one would hope the new Mayor and TAA Board make some difficult but better planned and considered decisions before another $700K (and this is an estimate) and another $7,000 a month debt is added on the current debt.

  • The-Facts

    Josh Abramson you met with members of the National Guard in 2010. I was there. You were told that the old runway WOULD NOT handle the aircraft that UAM worked on. Your response was’ UAM is bring jobs’. You were also told that if any company was going to use the old runway it should be repaired before any company took possession. You and the airport board should be fired!!!! UAM will never bring more benefit to this area than we will spend keeping up that old POS runway….. Matter of FACT.

    • fairorright

      It’s about time that the airport
      and city leadership seek a second and even a third opinion. It’s well known
      that Abramson was disingenuous with his treatment of the Guard despite a
      monthly revenue source of more than $5,000. While the Guard was in the facility,
      the State was paying the loan. Abramson kicking the Guard out in May 2011 is what
      triggered the loan payments, not in 2007-8 like he tries to spin. Someone tell him how many FTE’s the Guard is responsible for. UAM is spinning their numbers.

  • DoubleTalk

    I’ll ask the same question as in the beginning. How much is coming in versus how much is going out ? That should have been the decision maker in the beginning.

    Aside from that, you are not going to make $700,000 in repairs that will support the weight by next weeks scheduled plane. So that self created government urgency trick is not a factor.

    Anyone remember the final lease details on how much UAM is paying ? I really don’t have a problem with the stuff sitting there and being recycled. It all boils down to money to me.

    Crop duster deal. They land on dirt strips all the time.

    Bottom lin – when that certain group decided to make it their personal airport- it has been downhill ever since.