By Butch Weir, Editor, The Poplarville Democrat
The Picayune Item
The Poplarville-Pearl River County Airport is seeing an upgrade thanks to a $350,000 matching grant from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The airport is approximately two miles south of the city on Mississippi Highway 53 South.
Darrell Fuller, of the five-member airport board, said the grant is funding construction of a small terminal building, a short new entrance road and a gated, fenced-in staging area on the northeast side of the airport. The FAA provides 90-percent of the grant with the state putting in 5-percent and the city-county airport budget the remaining 5-percent.
The state-county-city part of the project funding came to approximately $17,600; the rest was covered by the 90-percent FAA match, he said.
Standing in front of the new terminal building under construction, Fuller pointed to a section of higher hurricane fence topped with barbed wire that is parallel to Miss. Hwy. 53. He said fence is built to Homeland Security specifications and will enclose the area between the highway and the terminal building. The enclosed area will be locked and will have a key-pad for an electric gate. The entrance road is between the older hanger buildings and the new staging area.
Mississippi Power Co. has plans to store power poles in the new fenced section, Fuller said, as well as the area being available for Federal emergency needs.
“This is strictly for the electric company to have a staging area for natural disasters.” He said after hurricane Katrina the power company had to use the Pearl River County Fairgrounds as a staging area for poles and other repair needs.
Between the new building and the larger hanger to the south is an above-ground storage tank for approximately 1,500 gallons of aviation fuel. Fuller estimated the tank is filled about twice a year, depending on the number of landings made.
One day in the spring there were about 100 aircraft in and out of the airport, he said. The Weyerhaeuser Co. had helicopters doing crop dusting on forest land in another instance. Fuller said when President Bush visited Poplarville after hurricane Katrina his helicopter landed there.
A maintenance man is usually at the facility servicing various aircraft.
Adjacent to the new staging area, the new one-story terminal building of approximately 800 sq. ft. will have a small conference area, storage rooms, and a small waiting area with rest rooms on the side facing the runway. The waiting room and rest rooms will be separated from the rest of the rooms by a door that can be locked to allow pilots to use the facility if the rest of the building is unoccupied.
Fuller said the airport, which is slightly more than 40 years old, never had a place for the convenience of transient pilots whose aircraft needed service. In addition, the airport board needed a central location for record storage.
“One of our first projects … was to get a little terminal building where transient pilots can come in — regardless of when they get here — and have some place to go, to flight plan and, if they’re just tired, stretch out on the couch for a while.” He said the fuel tank is constructed so pilots can use a credit card to get fuel at any time.
The construction of the building took about half of the $350,000 grant, he said. He said the entire project should be completed in about two months.
“We can’t afford something like this … We’re not Chicago or New York,” he said. The FAA fund that this project money is coming out of was started years ago and everybody that flies on an airplane has been contributing into it in the form of a tax on the aviation gas.
The runway is 4,000 feet long, which is accessible to a business jet or a C130 aircraft, “however, you’d better make a real good landing,” Fuller chuckled. “You don’t have a lot of extra runway. They like 5,000 feet,” There is 1,500 feet available to allow an extra 1,000 feet to be added to the runway but that is a project at some point in the future, he said. The airport covers approximately 100 acres.
Katrina destroyed the buildings at the airport, but once the wreckage and debris was cleared, the field was accessible. He said now the hangers and the new terminal building are rated to withstand a minimum of 125-mile-per-hour winds. There are four small hangers and one larger hanger.
He said about 10 planes “call this home” and rental is $25 per month. Grounds maintenance, mowing and such, is a shared job among various individuals, the county and others. “It’s a labor of love. None of us get paid,” Fuller said.
Bradley Holliday is the chairman of the five-member airport board, Phil Delgracias and Fuller are city appointed, and David Wheat and Ben Breland are county appointees.
He said the city-county contribution paid toward the airport is spent on general upkeep — mowing, utilities, replacing light bulbs and so forth. Various leasing fees and the aviation fuel sales — the airport gets about 25-, 30-cents per gallon — provide another source of money but there are no landing fees.
“What we do is just save it up over the years until we get some money, $20,000 or so … where we can meet that 5-percent (match).” Through the years that funding process has been used to add a taxiway and other improvements, he said.
“It’s a good facility and we just want it to be used more.”