Head in the Clouds
March 22, 2016
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  • The man in charge of the Olive Branch Airport operates a facility that provides a significant economic impact to the community and DeSoto County.

    Ed Woods is also the man running the busiest airport in Mississippi, with more planes flying in and out than at landing strips in Jackson and Gulfport-Biloxi.

    Woods has been general manager of the airport, also known as Metro Aviation Services, since Aug. 2014. He replaced David Taylor, who retired after 30 years with the facility.

    While he came to Olive Branch with extensive management experience, much of it came in the retail management and retail real estate areas, leading to a position with Belz Enterprises, helping expand and develop shopping centers in Las Vegas, Nev., Orlando and St. Augustine, Fla. and in Puerto Rico.

    Today, Woods oversees the facility that brings in about $15 million annually in an economic impact to Olive Branch and the Mid-South.

    “Even if you don’t fly in or out of here and you have no relationship to any of the industrial goings on, all those taxes go into the county,” Woods said. “They buy fuel at our airport, our employees get paid, they buy things locally, they pay taxes locally, so there’s a big impact from that.”

    The type of airport, located so close to the industrial warehouses that align the Mississippi-Tennessee border, make the Olive Branch Airport attractive for corporate officials to use their private jets, instead of going through the Memphis International Airport, where landing fees are charged.

    “You’ve got these warehouses out here for large corporations spending a lot of money to bring people without having to go through the Memphis airport,” Woods said. “You’re right here in the midst of the industrial section. It makes things faster and they get their trips done quicker. It’s just more convenient for them.”

    Woods added sports and entertainment celebrities often use the airport for their private aircraft when visiting the Mid-South or performing at the BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove or FedExForum. A wall display located in the terminal shows signed photographs by those who have used the airport.

    However, it’s the flight schools located at the Olive Branch Airport are what makes the local runway so busy; busier than Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International or Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

    “The way it’s measured is by the number of takeoffs and landings and a good deal of that comes from our flight schools,” Woods said. “They have brought in international students and have up to 50 students at a time through various stages of getting their license, from ground school to learning to solo and getting their license to use multi-engine planes to fly all instrument ratings, so that they can go back home and fly commercially.”

    Woods pointed out the requirements for getting a commercial pilot’s license make the schools a more attractive option for the international students than going through their military.

    The Olive Branch airport has been open since 1973, Woods noted.

    “It started off with a 4,000-foot runway, but we now have a 6,000-foot runway,” Woods said. “It is privately owned and is operated as a general aviation airport. We go through the other rules and regulations as other airports. It’s just that we’re privately owned, so we’re able to do a few things that other general aviation airports are not able to do.”

    Olive Branch is one of 11 Mississippi airports that have a control tower. There are six businesses that operate out of the airport and 155 airplanes are based there.

    Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.