BOONEVILLE — The blueprints, surveys and topography work have been done. Now the dirtwork begins.
This spring, construction will begin on the nearly $1-million proposal to upgrade the Booneville-Baldwyn airport in Northeast Mississippi.
When the three-phase project is complete, the airport, located equidistance from Booneville and Baldwyn, and about 25 miles from Tupelo, will house a new terminal, 10 new T-hangars, upgrades to existing hangars, a silent aviation ramp attendant (SARA), an extended taxiway to match the existing runway, fencing and upgraded lighting.
The new terminal will contain a pilot’s lounge, kitchen, restrooms, offices and an open area lobby. The SARA system, an automated fuel system, will allow pilots to access aviation fuel via credit card.
“Anytime improvements are made to the infrastructure in your area, you have an advantage over areas that don’t,” said Doug Mansell, executive director of the Prentiss County Development Association.
“In today’s regional recruitment, it’s important to have the major facilities available — utilities, education, technologies and air transportation,” he said. “The more improvements we have in air transportation, the better off we’ll be, because so many companies have headquarters in different areas and their corporate facilities include airplanes and small jets. An improved airport makes it easier and more convenient for them to do business locally without having to drive from a better airport facility.”
Howard Davidson, chairman of the Booneville-Baldwyn Airport Commission since 1968, said executives from Marathon Cheese Corp. of Booneville, a local packager of cheese for Kraft Foods, frequent the local airport because they can shave off five hours’ travel time to corporate headquarters in Marathon, Wisc.
“If they take a commercial flight, they have to drive two hours to Memphis and be there an hour ahead of the flight time and then take the hour and a half flight to Wisconsin,” he said. “The nearest commercial airport to company headquarters is an hour and a half drive. That’s about seven hours’ time to make the trip. But by using this airport, they fly their plane from here to Marathon in about two hours.”
Corporate flight activity has increased at local airports for convenience and because of security problems associated with major airports, Davidson said.
“Now most companies of any size have their own planes,” he said. “We have about 10 planes based at the airport now and when the 10 hangars are finished, we expect them to fill up in a week. Some planes from Olive Branch are at the Booneville airport because there’s not enough hanger space for them there and with security issues people don’t like to leave them out anymore.”
Smaller airports are “doing great business right now,” said Davidson, who is also a board member of the Mississippi Airport Association.
“This is true over most of the state,” he said. “The airports at Pascagoula and Olive Branch are probably the two busiest airports in the state. The state legislature and the Mississippi Development Authority have been very helpful in moving us forward.”
Davidson said an increasing number of student pilots are opting for the Booneville-Baldwyn Airport instead of the Tupelo airport.
“Traffic at the Tupelo airport has increased, so a lot of the students come here to fly,” he said.
The project marks the first major renovation since the airport opened in 1967. The last major improvement was two years ago, when the runway was extended from 3,800 to 4,000 feet.
“With our 4,000-foot strip, just about any plane or corporate jet can land here,” Davidson said.
The $951,586 project was divided into three phases over a three-year period to FY 2003 to obtain adequate federal funding.
The Prentiss County Board of Supervisors received a $250,000 Mississippi Development Authority grant, the maximum amount available, partly through the Limited Population Program. The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) is kicking in $366,260 over a two-year period.
A proposed grant for $278,810 through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is pending approval.
State and local governments will provide the 10% match money for the 90% federal grant.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com</a.