VKS shifts gears to find funding|[6/9/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 9, 2006

With its application for state funds to build T-hangars denied, the Vicksburg Municipal Airport board said its search for funding would continue through other avenues.

The five-member VKS board has asked a private firm to help it secure grants or other funding to build more of the private hangars, which it hopes will drum up more revenue for the 56-year-old airport on U.S. 61 South, president Kimble Slaton said this morning.

No one is under contract, but &#8220we have people looking,” said Slaton, head of the board formed in August when the City of Vicksburg rekindled its commitment to keep the city’s airport operating.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

&#8220We’re trying to not do it through debt,” Slaton said of the hangar quest. &#8220We’re trying to make it self-sufficient so we do not have a debt hanging over that airport.”

The push for T-hangars took &#8220a blow to the chin,” as board secretary Jay Kilroy said at the board’s monthly meeting last week, just after a Mississippi Department of Transportation commission passed VKS over in a round of more than $3.64 million in state funds announced for local airports statewide.

Unlike its counterpart in Louisiana, Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound – owned jointly by the Warren County Board of Supervisors, the City of Vicksburg, the City of Tallulah and the Madison Parish Police Jury – the municipal airport has no regular public benefactor. Its money comes from fuel sales on site and renting out two communal hangars donated by a former private owner at the start of this month.

That revenue, though, which totaled $29,379.41 in May, is just enough to pay bills and insurance, buy fuel for resale to planes that stop in and to keep the terminal open, said Kilroy, who called a $2,000 monthly profit optimistic.

Airport manager Frank May, who’s worked at VKS in some capacity since 1977, was more dire: &#8220If it barely breaks even now we would be accomplishing something,” he said.

Basic maintenance was performed at the airport by private interests during years of litigation following a 2-1 city board vote in 1998 to close the city facility in favor of the regional airport in Louisiana. The Supreme Court ruled that the city can close its airport, but the Laurence Leyens administration, which took office in 2001, has opted to keep it open – spurred by a $650,000 state grant for runway improvement.

Funds from that grant were exhausted earlier this week, when the Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved using the remaining $21,400 to build a 1,163-foot chain link fence at the airport. That leaves the site functioning day-to-day, with airport board members saying they want to help VKS compete regionally.

&#8220We have some plans that are probably cost-prohibitive right now, but we’ve got to get some more planes parked out there,” said treasurer Bobby Burks.

The board’s immediate answer is building the T-hangars to expand the number of aircraft owners that call the port home, currently at 18. May said only five of those pay rent for storage in the large airport-owned hangars. Many pilots in the current hangars and at least a half dozen more have said they would call Vicksburg Municipal home if it could provide their planes the individual spaces other nearby airports – including Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional – already offer.

&#8220We have a waiting list,” Kilroy said. &#8220Every airport anywhere near us has a waiting list…A lot of private pilots, especially, want that private space.”

To that end, the board submitted a proposal asking for $435,000 from MDOT earlier this year to build 10 T-hangars, Kilroy said, the first step in a multi-phase plan to construct three buildings housing 26 individual hangars between them. When the agency announced the 18 projects its seven-member committee had tagged for the grants last week, however, Vicksburg Municipal wasn’t on the list.

Forty-four airports submitted more than 60 requests for those grants, said Elton Jay, head of MDOT’s aeronautical division. Two other requests for T hangar projects, one in Magee and one in Cleveland, were funded, though both asked for significantly less than VKS.

MDOT will receive a record amount of federal funding for Mississippi airports in 2007, Jay said, but the majority of that $92.5 million is destined for sites on the Coast damaged and destroyed by Hurricane Katrina last August.

Vicksburg also missed more than $6 million in federal funding to 11 state airports announced in March, more than half of which went to Jackson-Evers International Airport in Rankin County and the rest to smaller and private sites.