Airport to get some expansions

Published 11:02 pm Saturday, May 26, 2007

With no other way to get supplies in after Hurricane Katrina, Picayune’s airport was a drop off point for much needed commodities and other relief supplies and now it has received funding to increase its usefulness and more funding may be on the way.

The importance of Picayune’s airport became even more apparent after Hurricane Katrina because it was the closest operational airport to the coast, since the Gulfport and New Orleans airports both went under water during the storm, said Frank Ford, Airport Advisory board member. After the storm, supplies were brought to Picayune at the airport to be distributed by trucks and other ground vehicles all across the storm ravaged area.

Recently the airport was approved to receive a grant of $199,500 from the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to a press release from the department. Before approval, the federal grant money had to be justified by aircraft traffic at the airport.

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“If you got an airport that is stagnant, you’re not going to get anything. Picayune’s (airport is) anything but (stagnant),” Ford said. “It’s all about the traffic.”

Recent statistics for the airport estimate traffic coming into the airport is about 2,800 aircraft per year.

Funding so far promised to the airport will help build four new helipads, more automobile parking spaces and a new fuel depot. The new parking area will be constructed on the east side of the airport’s terminal access road, Ford said. The new fuel depot will make refueling helicopters easier.

While the money promised by the federal transportation agency is not in the city’s hands, the city will be reimbursed for the work covered in the scope of the federal grant, City Manager Ed Pinero Jr. said. Those reimbursements will come in phases.

However, current bids turned in for the projected work have been about 15 percent higher than anticipated, Pinero said. In response, the city manager said he will pursue more funding, since there is still more money out there. He also will see if he can obtain more reasonable bids. Pinero said he should know if the city will get the additional funding in about a month.

Land acquisition is needed at the airport to make way for expansions of the runway and for more T-hangers, since there is limited space to do either, Pinero said. He said negotiations to acquire the land are continuing.

“It’s gong to have a dual use — I would say primarily for hangar development,” Ford said.

There are plans to lengthen, widen and strengthen the runway to allow larger aircraft to land at the airport. Increasing the number of hangers will allow more aircraft to be stored there. Land acquisition for that runway work would have to be to north, since the Stennis buffer zone borders the airport on its south end, Ford said.

Currently, there are some new T-hangers nearing completion, which will provide 16 hangers with a large hanger at the end capable of holding multiple planes, Pinero said. So far, 62 people are on the waiting list for a hanger. He said the promise of more hanger space would most likely put more people on the waiting list since Picayune has the only airport in the area that leases hangers to the general public.

“It’s one more thing that makes Picayune an attractive option,” Ford said.

A new member has joined the airport advisory board. Jonathan Whitfield replaces Alice McGrath for the remainder of her term, which ends July 2008. He had his first meeting earlier this week, Ford said.