JMAA begins master plan for Hawkins Field

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Published: July 28,2010

Tags: air travel, airports, transportation, travel

JACKSON — The future for Hawkins Field in Jackson is beginning now with the first steps toward a master plan for growth.

The Jackson Municipal Airport Authority, which operates Hawkins Field and Jackson-Evers International Airport, is working with an architectural and engineering firm to create the plan for how the airfield can grow.

“We’re looking to inventory what we have out there and (develop) a plan for the next 20 years,” said Mark Counts, a vice president with Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, a Nashville architecture and engineering firm.

The 18-month study is about two-thirds complete, and its backers have met with business and community leaders to get their input.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires such plans every 10 years, said Dirk Vanderleest, JMAA’s CEO.

The plan will include goals that can be accomplished in five, 10 and 20 years and must be approved by JMAA and FAA, Vanderleest said.

“(We’re) looking at the runways, the taxiways, navigation equipment, and listening to the community,” he said.

Hawkins Field opened in 1928. It was Jackson’s commercial airport until the new one opened in 1963 in Rankin County.

Hawkins Field has a number of corporate and medical-services flights and houses various divisions of the Mississippi Army National Guard. It’s also used for flight-school training.

The plan will include a rundown of Hawkins’ current tenants and amenities, growth trends, future needs as well as ways to most effectively increase safety, economic development and capital improvement at the airfield.

One initiative that could emerge when a final report is approved includes extending the main runway from 5,385 feet to 6,000 feet.

Vanderleest said it’s a goal the airfield has had for many years. Extending the runway will allow more corporate flights heading cross-country to stop in Jackson to refuel, he said.

Future growth at Hawkins Field could open up surrounding areas to more economic development, said Benjie Barham, the Hinds County Economic Development District’s director of business development.

There are several warehouse-type buildings available at Hinds County’s nearby industrial park that are well-suited to businesses using the airfield, he said.

Plus, Hawkins Field has established a niche as a site for corporate traffic and could expand that with the right plan, he said.

Jackson-based Trustmark National Bank has housed its corporate jet at Hawkins Field for more than 20 years, Richard G. Hickson, chairman and CEO, said in an e-mail.

He said Hawkins Field has provided “efficient and reasonably priced services” for Trustmark and other companies over the years.

Barham said larger hangars and more hangars are needed to attract other corporate clients.

Counts said the plan also may include building a new terminal featuring meeting rooms and other amenities, and perhaps renovating an older terminal to include something like a restaurant.

Security is the primary concern for Perry Robinson, who heads the Georgetown Neighborhood Association and has lived near the airfield for more than five decades.

He said there are too many dilapidated buildings and not enough lighting near the airport, creating a potential breeding ground for crime.

He’d like to see a community center built in the area. That, plus more lighting and other safety features, will help the airfield draw more traffic, Robinson said.

“When that (community improvement) comes, industry will start to invest,” Robinson said. “We’re on our way to making this a reality.”

Counts said a list of recommendations should be complete in three months, and the final report ready in six months.

Should the plan be approved, an environmental study likely would be needed, a process that can take several years. Other state and federal agencies would have to approve, also, before any construction could start.

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