Board OKs 650-foot runway extension

Tupelo Regional Airport will get its runway extension – only it will be a little shorter than expected.
On Tuesday, the Tupelo Airport Authority was informed by engineering firm Neel-Schaffer that the runway could be extended either 650 feet to the north or 350 feet to the south – but not both.
The authority, with little discussion, unanimously approved the 650-foot extension.
The extension also won’t impact West Jackson Street Extended. The road, which runs north of the runway, will not be closed. Its fate has been a sticking point with some residents, businesses and city leaders who feared the east-west road would be affected by a runway extension.
“I’m very happy that we finally reached a decision where we get an extension to the runway without having to disrupt the 7,000 cars and trucks that travel on that road,” said Authority Chairman Bo Gibens.
Last month, Allen Thames, a senior aviation planner for Neel-Schaffer, said the most feasible option was to add both extensions to the runway to achieve the desired 1,000 feet.
But that was before crunching the numbers.
The tab for the full 1,000 feet would have been more than $12.5 million – a price tag the FAA wasn’t willing to fund, Thames said Tuesday.
The FAA funds 95 percent of airport projects, but it didn’t think there was enough justification to pay for the entire extension, he said.
“What they said was that you could have one or the other,” he said.
The 650-foot extension will cost an estimated $8,147,167. The FAA will pay for $7,739,808, with the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the city of Tupelo equally splitting the remaining $407,358.
Airport officials have lobbied for several years to extend the runway in order to accommodate larger planes and larger fuel loads. Doing so could attract cargo companies, as well as provide better commercial air service, they say.
Thames said that the additional 650 feet – which will make the runway 7,150 feet long – will serve the purposes of regional jets and most business jets, as well as short-haul cargo flights.
But he did say that the airport could look to the extension to the south down the road.
“Long term, I’d like to get to 7,500 feet,” Gibens said, “but we’ll take one step at a time.”
The next step is for Neel-Schaffer to send its findings and recommendation to the FAA.
In a best-case scenario, the FAA would give its approval, and funding for the project could be requested in November for Fiscal Year 2011. Work could then begin next spring.
In a worst-case scenario, funding would not be available and the airport would have to make a request next year.
But, Thames said, the airport could request for some funding for other smaller projects, such as doing dirt work that would need to be done anyway for the extension.
“And we can show the FAA where they can get funding,” Thames said. “We have a plan.”
Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal