OTHER OPINION: Tupelo Council airport decision reflects legal precision

Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton, the City Council and the Tupelo Airport Authority have agreed on an emergency plan of taxiway repairs to provide adequate pavement support for heavy retired aircraft, particularly Boeing 747s, flown to Tupelo for dismantling and recycling at Universal Asset Management, a major airport property leaseholder.

The agreement – which the city and airport authority say will address crumbling of the existing asphalt pavement in some places – was hammered from the mayor’s office and among the council and airport authority in the past few days. UAM leases the former U.S. Army Aviation hangar and additional land on the east side of the airport property. That will provide up to $107,000 in taxiway reconstruction with reinforced concrete on a 50 foot-by-200 foot portion of pavement.
Ward 2 Councilman Lynn Bryan said the contract awarded to Knight Bros. of Corinth will enable the city and authority to meet strict lease requirements for maintenance.

In earlier statements about the airport, a $700,000 repair cost had been cited, but professional engineers and Chief Operations Officer Darrel Smith, with the city’s attorneys and Mayor Shelton involved, determined that the 50-by-200 strip would resolve pressing problems.

The council’s vote was unanimous. The action placed first the interests of Tupelo’s citizens, whose taxes provide the capital reserve bond funds from which the special funds were drawn.

The vote does not preclude additional discussion once the lease compliance issues already raised are resolved. Conversations in the Council Chamber suggested Thursday’s decision also involves a clear expectation that lease requirements will be met by UAM, too.

UAM has a 20-year lease, with the income paying portions of the airport’s debt service.

Tupelo Regional Airport remains one of Tupelo’s most valuable assets because it has been upgraded and maintained as a passenger-service ready facility, with capacity for extensive general aviation.

A dramatic downturn in regional airline service by carriers like Delta threw city’s like Tupelo for a loop related to airport income from passenger operations. Silver Airways, which succeeded Delta as the carrier supported by federal Essential Air Service funding, got off to a bad start and passenger volume plummeted. When boardings dropped below 10,000 per year, the airport lost about $850,000 in previously assured federal support. In tough times especially precision is required in financial matters, including all contract obligations.