Tupelo’s City Council faces an important decision later this week about the ongoing business relationship with Universal Asset Management, an airplane recycling business that’s leasing space at Tupelo Regional Airport.
Tupelo Airport Authority has requested a $1.2 million bond program, paid out over 10 years, to improve the taxiway used by UAM for its to-be recycled airplanes, some jumbo, widebody retired airliners, planes that access the facility on the east side of the airport property.
The city earlier agreed to spend up to $107,000 for an emergency repair on the taxiway where airplanes too heavy for the pavement had cracked through the surface. That work was not considered a permanent fix, just a stopgap. UAM has yet to say the work was adequate.
The airport authority’s request could be more easily understood if it provided full disclosure and transparency on what the contract requires it to do, and by extension the city, if it agrees.
The airport authority is not in an advantageous financial position because loss of anticipated revenue related to declining passenger traffic at Tupelo Regional Airport had a domino effect in disqualifying the city from some Federal Aviation Administration funding. A change in the passenger carrier, from Delta to Silver Airways, has not been the smoothest of transitions, but some of the service issues have been resolved.
The bottom line should be what the contract between UAM and the airport authority requires, with those facts measured against the risk, and even probability, of losing UAM and its jobs if the taxiway is not rebuilt to an adequate standard.
While skepticism seemed to prevail among council members at Monday’s agenda review, what would be the long-term bottom line if Tupelo said to an industry, in effect, we’ve changed our minds?
Airport authority Executive Director Josh Abramson formally made the bond request to City Council members on behalf of the airport authority, which believes the city help is necessary to keep Universal Asset Management, the largest private tenant at the airport, from leaving.
Along with the request letter, Abramson distributed a three-year plan that showed UAM pledging to spend $29 million in the city through salaries and benefits, supplies and purchases and utility costs, plus $700,000 in capital costs at the airport.
The area the airport wants upgraded was last improved in 1963, 50 years ago. No one at that time even dreamt about 400,000-pound aircraft flying into Tupelo.