Tupelo airport’s old runway needs $700,000 fix

rundownrunwayBy Dennis Seid
Daily Journal

TUPELO – Even without passengers, cargo or fuel, a Boeing 747 weighs 400,000 pounds.

Universal Asset Management, the aircraft recycling company, has landed several of them at Tupelo Regional Airport in the past two years. The company takes apart the retired air titans – and other large planes – at its disassembly operation at the airport and sells the engines and other parts to customers around the world.

But once the planes land they must traverse the old runway to UAM’s facility. And that runway is beaten, battered and in need of repair.

In the past, airport and UAM workers have used thick steel plates to cover large dips and problem areas on the old runway to ease the planes onto the airport’s apron, but a permanent fix is badly needed.

It’s the airport’s responsibility to fix the runway, but a permanent fix will cost about $700,000.

And the airport doesn’t have the money for it.

“We’re having to keep it up with temporary fixes,” said airport executive director Josh Abramson.

The most recent temporary fix is laying down “pug,” a mixture of aggregate, asphalt and other materials spread over the surface. That cost a fraction of the longer-term fix, about $20,000.

When UAM was recruited two years ago to move its operations from Walnut Ridge, Ark., to Tupelo, airport and company officials knew the runway needed to be repaired.

The airport was counting on an annual Federal Aviation Administration grant of $1 million to help cover the costs. But the amount is tied to the number of passengers that land at the airport. Falling below 10,000 boardings a year – as the airport has done the past two years – means funding is cut to $150,000 a year.

JOBS AND PLANES
Like other companies recruited to the state, UAM received incentives to move to Tupelo.

The Mississippi Development Authority provided a $350,000 grant to help with UAM’s move to Tupelo, with most of the money used for relocation expenses. The rest of the money was to be used for infrastructure improvements.
Recently, the airport completed about $1 million – using a combination of federal, state and local money – to build a new concrete apron for UAM as the first phase in improvements. But the wallet is all but empty to repair the old runway.

That has UAM officials concerned.

“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.
UAM said it would employ 100 people within three years. It now employs about 70.

Wright said it’s not only UAM being affected by the poor condition of the runway. Customers who buy the engines and other major components of the retired aircraft fly into Tupelo, and she said a dilapidated runway presents a bad image for

UAM, the airport and the city.

She said UAM and the airport are working closely together to come up with “creative solutions” for the short term and long term.

They’ll likely have to do it without much help from the FAA.

The agency is unlikely – and unable – to provide any discretionary funding that the airport can use on top of the $150,000 it will receive.

So, the airport has few other options except to look for more funding of some kind.

MDA does have an airport loan program Tupelo Regional can tap.

“But we can’t afford it on top of the yearly debt service we already have of $260,000,” Abramson said.

That debt was taken on in 2007-2008, when the Tupelo Regional Airport Authority agreed to pay two fixed-based operators $1.5 million and took on a $1.8 million note when the National Guard moved to a new facility nearby.

For now, Abramson said the temporary fixes to the runway will have to continue until some funding source emerges.

“All we can do is the temporary repairs for now,” he said. “The planes will come and we’ll follow behind them and do what we can.”

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

  • DoubleTalk

    Here is the same old government story. Make decisions made on hopeful funds in the future and leave the taxpayers worse off than in the beginning.

  • charlie

    Didn’t Alan Nunnlee vote against some upgrade federal money for Tupelo Air Port a while back saying something about how conservative he was?

  • Fireman17

    Thought when that company moved into the Air Guard Hanger they agreed to help keep up the runways.. But now they want the tax payers to foot the bill.. Sounds like Ex Mayor Reed has put Tupelo into another Pickle..

  • fairorright

    Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! The Airport Authority and management has now become Tupelo’s
    Spin Zone. And that does not apply to aircraft spins. Grown men are now trying to “spin away” or cover-up their mistakes and wrong doings. Something is abysmally wrong! Hopefully the new Mayor Shelton is taking notes.

    TAA and Abramson knew that UAM was being evicted from Walnut Ridge because of the damage it was doing to their airport, an old military base with ground structures built to withstand
    aircraft a lot heavier than Tupelo’s. In fact, even Tupelo’s main operational runway is only
    stressed for 200K pounds, half of the 747’s weight. The ramps and closed runway were stressed for less than 72K pounds. TAA knew that these results were predictable, inevitable and yet they deceived Tupelo’s Mayor and Council. Where’s the engineer’s report on strengths and predicted damages?

    Where was and is their long term plan? They have no Airport Master Plan, a requirement by FAA. Their Airport Construction Improvement Plan, required by the FAA for Grant application has been changed every year (it’s a five year projection) by the Director without the TAA’s formal approval. Maybe the Board should look closer at what they’re approving.

    When are the city officials going to ask for a complete review of the airport’s shifty operations? They owe the City taxpayers more than $250K for these delinquent loans. The City is providing labor for airport projects without reimbursement, the City is forgiving water bills in amounts exceeding $10K but the real crime is that management will not take ownership for their mistakes and continue to try to pass blame on to the previous Board.

    In 2007, the TAA was forced by then Mayor Neelly and others to buy the FBOs for $1.5M. The TAA Board had tried to buy one FBO at a reasonable price but was rebuked. From 2007 through 2009,after purchase, the FBO operations paid for the loan and the airport handled all other debt while building a $150K reserve fund. That reserve has been spent and now the Director chooses to “pay” for the FBO loan from TAA accounts rather than have the responsible operation, TAU, pay for their own debt. In fact for FY 2009, the airport was self-sufficient, a federal grant assurance requirement, for the first time in the history of Tupelo Regional. The City did not pay any subsidies for the airport’s or the FBO’s operations.

    The next project was unfathomable. Airport management (and possibly CDF and the City) prematurely rejected, or ejected as those involved put it, the Army National Guard unit which was
    willing to stay and continue payment on the other loan while a sensitive project in the National Guard Bureau to relocate two squadrons of Apache Longbow helicopters to Tupelo was being considered. Disgraceful and shameful! It sure would have been better to have 24 more Apaches Instead derelicts everywhere are destroying the southern end of the airport. The military is one of the biggest revenue producers on the airport and it could have doubled that had the Guard
    been given an opportunity.

    Beware citizens and taxpayers of Tupelo. This is not a short term fix. The Director mentioned the FAA as being potential benefactors. He should know better. The FAA would not provide entitlement money for these repairs when it only serves a private business. In fact he had to “spin” the present repairs providing a taxiway and ramp for UAM as serving 17 general
    aviation customers. That was more than a stretch. Sadly, Tupelo is now a “non-primary, non-hub
    commercial service airport” on life support.

  • fairorright

    Update: another AMTRAK fiasco in Tupelo. The outcome was inevitable. But why did the powers and the Daily Journal give an opinion with no comments and “spin” an opinion poll where the author referred to a strip of asphalt as a runway that had not been used as such in over 30 years.

    Did the author review historical evidence to determine what amount of City money was used by the TAA to build the $6M terminal? It was less than $150K and $90K of that was returned to the TAA because of the previous management’s diligence in pursuing the Contractor for late fees. But to draw a comparison is ridiculous since the terminal is for the public not a private enterprise. And the airport and infrastructure ARE NOT the property of the City of Tupelo. Tupelo is a co-sponsor of the airport with the TAA. The FAA and the public are the real owners.

    The Mayor and City Council needs to get to the bottom of the felonious statements that are being made by the airport officials. In order to craft a bonafide solution, all options and alternatives must be vetted. Tupelo was in this subsidy situation once before in 1999 with the Mesa deal. It rook over five years and a million dollars of City subsidy before the gifts became reasonable capital expenditures. This situation is much worse.

    Th e defunct runway is just the beginning. The main runway and taxiways are beginning to show stress and deterioration. Those are not $700K fixes. Those are multi-milion dollar projects. The Director will just say that’s not true but the citizens need the proof that the airport is not being destroyed by UAM. When only one side of the story is being told , there’s usually collusion, falsehoods and mismanagement behind the myopic picture being painted. Mayor wants accountability and citizens to help find solutions. There is no better time than now!

  • Walter Sartin

    Giving 1.5 mil. dollars to the FBO’s does not make sense to me .FBO’s do not generate as much revenue as a Co. like UAW and does not employ as many people. UAW employs 70 people, that’s 70 families that are living off of that co. That adds money to the community and when the people who buy AC parts from this co. come to Tupelo they also spend money which is good for the city. It looks as though Tupelo and the airport may be in need of some management changes.