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Airport director seeks to raise awareness

Published 12:15 am Saturday, June 7, 2014

The immediate job Sam Washington has as the Vicksburg Municipal Airport’s executive director is making the city’s residents aware they have a facility that is a useful tool for promoting the city.
“I intend to set up meetings with the (Vicksburg-Warren) Chamber of Commerce, the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau; any of the other civic organizations in town,” he said.
“Anyone who’s willing to give me the time to talk, I’ll go talk. First of all, to remind them that they’ve got a great airport just down the road and when you have guests that you’re working with, or sponsoring, or trying to get to the city, don’t forget us.
“Let us tell you what we can do for you. We hope that some people who have aircraft will put it here.
“Everybody who will give me five minutes, I intend to be speaking with them, telling them about the airport and ask them to keep us in their plans and thoughts as they prepare plans,” he said.
A licensed pilot with a bachelor’s degree in management, a master’s of business administration and a master’s degree in commercial aviation, Washington took over as airport director May 12 with the retirement of longtime director Curt Follmer. He teaches commercial aviation at Delta State, and is working on a Ph.D. in leadership from Walden University.
He will serve as a part-time director, working 20 hours a week at $35 an hour.
He said being an airport director has been an ambition since he was studying for his master’s degree in commercial aviation at Delta State University in Cleveland.
“After I got into the program and started studying about airports, I thought, ‘Hey, it might be neat to work at an airport.’ Even growing up, I liked to go to the airport and just sit and watch the planes fly, so I guess even from childhood, I thought it would be great to work at an airport.
“In my younger days, I even tried to look for a position at an airport, but here in Mississippi the aviation industry is not as robust as in other states.”
Part of Washington’s plan to increase awareness of the airport is a series of programs designed to not only attract local residents, but also bring visitors to the airport.
“I’d like to set up some events here at the airport,” he said. “Some of them might be weekend events, some of them might be during the week. I’d like to do a fly-in, which is simply sending an invitation to people who’ve got airplanes and saying, ‘hey, come see us.’”
Another idea is setting up a light sport aircraft show.
Light sport aircraft, Washington said, is the newest classification of aircraft the Federal Aviation Administration has certified.
“They’re not very prevalent, so I think this will be a great little spot to host a show, where we could get some of those manufacturers and sales folks to bring some of those planes in here, invite the public and the flying public to come here and check the planes out, talk to the vendors, and get some demo rides,” he said.
“Who knows? One of those manufacturers might be interested in locating here.”
Meanwhile, he said, projects are in the works to improve the airport’s physical plant.
He said he is meeting with a representative from Neel-Schaffer Engineers and City Attorney Nancy Thomas to discuss clearing trees on the north and south ends of the airport.
“There were already plans in place (for) doing a parallel taxiway to the north,” he said.
He said plans are also underway to clean two of the airport’s large hangars, and repair and renovate the MRC hangar on the north end of the airport. “We’ve got a couple of folks in there already, and we’ve got a gentleman who’s interested in leasing that hangar,” he said. “He has planes in Raymond right now, and he’s interested in bringing them here.”
A long-term plan is improving self-serve fueling for pilots at the airport fuel farm.
Washington is a member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, the Black Pilots of America, and a member of the Mississippi Airport Association Board of Directors.
He is a commander with the Civil Air Patrol Cleveland Composite Squadron and a member with the Mississippi Air National Guard’s 255th Air Control Squadron based at the Gulfport-Biloxi Regional Airport.
He lives in Cleveland with his wife Barbara. He said he would continue living in Cleveland and drive or fly to Vicksburg three times a week, and twice a week in the fall, when classes resume at Delta State.
Washington said he plans to remain as airport director in a part-time capacity, adding that when he interviewed for the job, he told city officials there will come a time when the airport will need a full-time director.
“I shared with them that a part-time director is not optimal for an airport like this,” he said. “It would really be best to have a full-time airport director so you could stay on top of everything. I think with the traffic we’re having here right at the moment, it’s fine, but for it to become what you really want it to be, and what we hope to build it into, eventually, we’re going to need someone full time.”