Take off or stop the engines

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 18, 2009

A sign at the entrance of the Vicksburg Muncipal Airport reads: “We’re Taking Off!”

More like stalling in mid-flight.

The nearly 60-year-old terminal at the airport has sat in a gutted state for more than a year now, and it’s time for the mayor and aldermen to stop making excuses and do whatever it takes to get the project completed. If they can’t, they should cut the taxpayers’ losses and let the airport close once and for all.

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Recreational pilots, business leaders, politicians and everyone else who visits our city via airplane is forced to make use of a trailer home that’s been poorly fashioned into a makeshift terminal. It makes a lasting impression, and not a good one.   

Pilot Doug Hall, a Vicksburg native who now lives in Texas but flies in and out of the airport on a weekly basis, summed up the situation perfectly: “They ought to be embarrassed by this. Vicksburg should be able to do better.”

The airport upgrade is a commitment made by former Mayor Laurence Leyens that now saddles Mayor Paul Winfield. After a long overdue visit to the crumbling terminal last summer, Leyens decided not only  to get the terminal renovation under way, but to take over all airport operations. The former mayor was ambitious in his planning, but shortsighted in his estimate that the city maintenance crew could get the job done in a timely fashion.

Winfield said last week the terminal project “just hasn’t been a top priority,” and made sure to add it was not a project he started. Side-stepping responsibility by laying blame on the previous administration may appease Winfield’s supporters, but it does nothing for the city’s tainted reputation as a result of the airport’s ramshackle appearance.

The debate over whether the city should support Vicksburg Municipal or the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in Mound, La. — in which it is also one-quarter owner — has been ongoing for decades and will likely continue as long as both are in operation.

Winfield has said he intends to support both airports. If that support amounts to little more than lip service, both airports will sputter in the long run. If the mayor sincerely believes Vicksburg Municipal can be the economic development asset he has speculated it could be, he needs to make it a top priority. If not, it should be shut down now.