Really big airplanes remain big news in small cities like Tupelo, where they're usually seen only as they fly over. Saturday's landing served as free entertainment for families, and it dramatically announced a new industry for the airport complex: Universal Asset Management, an aircraft recycling/aftermarket company headquartered in Memphis, that's been in business since 1993.
Saturday's landing was the last for the former airliner. It will become aftermarket parts for UAM, many of its components eventually flying another day as part of somebody else's 747 or another plane - the rest recycled.
In the case of JAL, it has phased out its once-huge fleet of 747s and converted to the long-range Boeing 777 and a new model of the Boeing 767 for its worldwide operations.
UAM's Tupelo operations will employ 100 people within three years, with an announced average salary of about $45,000.
The aftermarket for airplane parts is huge worldwide, and UAM is a thriving part of the business.
UAM will use the hangar that for decades served the U.S. Army National Guard's fleet of helicopters stationed in Tupelo. That base will move to a new and larger facility on the airport's northeast side, near the runway.
Landscaping will be installed to shield UAM's operations from passing roadway traffic, similar to landscaping at the Tupelo Furniture Market.
UAM will warehouse its inventory of parts in the former IP (International Paper) Building (also known as the former Gibson Container) building in Tupelo-Lee Industrial Park South. It is a 450,000-square-foot space.
UAM's website on Tuesday, for example, listed for immediate sale 737-300 landing gears, 747-200F landing gears, and inventories for many types and models of other aircraft.
Community Development Foundation staff members, city and county officials, and state agencies used a time-proven formula in attracting UAM: confidentially working through the Mississippi Development Authority, the Momentum Mississippi incentives program, and the Appalachian Regional Commission, whose Mississippi operations are in Tupelo. MDA provided a loan for Lee County to purchase the hangar, which will be leased to UAM.
Bo Gibens, chairman of the Tupelo Airport Authority, says UAM is the largest private capital investment that the airport has ever had, but specific figures have not yet been made public.
Appropriate parts of the airport authority's property long have been available for industrial/commercial ventures. UAM is a natural client.