The New Albany-Union County airport was one of six in Northeast Mississippi that will receive a total of more than $821,000 in grants. The facilities are among 19 airports in the state that are splitting $4.49 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants. The state’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, announced the grants Thursday.
The New Albany-Union County Airport, city of New Albany and Union County will receive $77,197 for land acquisition and the removal of tree obstructions. That is working toward eventual extension of the runway.
This past year the airport also received a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant for $150,400 to rehabilitate existing hangars and $150,000 from the Airport and Airway Trust fund, which is supported by user fees, fuel taxes and other similar revenue sources, for the installation of a runway vertical and visual guidance system.
The Federal Aviation Administration oversees the AIP grant distribution, which covers 75 percent of eligible costs for large and medium primary hub airports, while small primary, reliever and general aviation airports are granted 90-95 percent of eligible costs, based on statutory requirements.
In conjunction with all this, the Federal Aviation Administration is considering a proposal that would eventually lead to almost doubling the length of the New Albany-Union County Airport runway.
If approved, when the project is completed it could attract air and business traffic from other North Mississippi airports, help Toyota and other suppliers and even bring more revenue through private pilots such as those attending Ole Miss football games.
Now, the airport has a single runway that is 3,902 feet long and has a taxiway that runs only part of the length of the runway.
“You can serve small single and some small twin engines,” Neel-Schaffer engineer Gerald Jasper said this past year. “You want to see more larger twin-engine and private and corporate, but not commercial, jets.”
The critical part of the plan now is the runway. Phase I would increase the length to 5,003 feet and Phase II, to 6,003 (the extra three feet are for insurance purposes since the runway has to be “at least” a certain length).
While the project will be expensive, only a small portion of the money will be local. “The FAA will fund 90 percent and MDOT will provide five percent for airport improvement,” engineer Susanna Cook said.
The key is justifying that the runway is needed and will be used, she said. “How? You approach the local community and businesses,” she added.
“You need 500 ‘operations’ a year to justify the runway,” Jasper said. An “operation” can be a landing or takeoff, but unfortunately, most small aircraft already at the airport don’t qualify for the count, he added.
The airport already had the land needed for the runway extension and there are no land-based obstacles that would affect FAA approval (the city does have a rubbish landfill northeast of the airport and there is a radio tower at the fairgrounds, but both are out of the way).
Funding for a terminal would be separate. “That is not an FAA priority,” she said. “So we would try for other terminal funding, maybe an ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant.”
“A lot of times it is the corporate pilots who decide where to fly,” Jasper said, “and they are not going to some place where they are not comfortable.” An attractive terminal would have an area where pilots could relax, do some work, perhaps even take a shower.
Although no timetable has been given, the engineers said the FAA often funds site preparation work one year and the actual construction the following year.
“The projects financed by these grants will allow for vital transportation improvements throughout the state,” Wicker said. “Our state’s local airports stand to benefit from these important investments in infrastructure and safety upgrades.”
Said Cochran, “These grants serve as a worthwhile tool to help Mississippi communities improve the safety and efficiency of their airports. With these upgrades, these airports can better serve as transportation and economic development hubs for cities and towns throughout our state.”
“The airport is a great asset for the county. A lot of people don’t realize that,” Jasper said. If the airport is enlarged, “You will need more qualified people to take care of jets and so forth. That’s a good thing.”
Right now, Jasper said, “ New Albany is a ‘hidden’ airport.” The expansion and marketing can make it a much more visible and successful revenue-producing part of the community.