Flaggs gets education on Vicksburg Municipal Airport

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 25, 2015

EDUCATION: Airport manager Sam Washington, left, talks with mayor George Flaggs Friday at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

EDUCATION: Airport manager Sam Washington, left, talks with mayor George Flaggs Friday at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. took an hour Friday to visit the Vicksburg Municipal Airport and met with airport director Sam Washington as part of a fact-finding tour to determine the feasibility of keeping or closing the airport or continuing to support it and Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport.

He also took an aerial tour of the airport property with helicopter pilot Joey Kelly of Drake’s Landing, a helicopter service based at the airport.

Flaggs will visit Vicksburg-Tallulah, or VTR, as it is called, Monday at 2 p.m. The visits are the result of information presented at a July 16 public hearing whether to close the municipal airport. City officials will have a second meeting Aug. 10 with Federal Aviation Administration officials in Jackson, and the board is expected reach a decision whether to close it Aug. 17.

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The board’s vote was set for Aug. 25, but City Attorney Nancy Thomas said a decision on the airport is needed by Aug. 17 to meet an Aug. 18 deadline for FAA funds to install a precision approach path indicator at the airport and remove trees from the north end of the runway as a safety measure.

The FAA has set aside $441,00 for the projects, and the board Monday took three bids for the projects under advisement. Thomas said the city needs to give the FAA the exact cost of the project to get funding.

Washington told Flaggs the airport’s hangars are rented, adding 16 planes owned by 14 tenants are based at the field. He said Marc Inc., an air service based in Raymond, has three of its planes stored in a hangar here, adding the company plans to add six more planes at Vicksburg.

“I feel there is enough business for us and VTR,” he said. “It’s just how we approach it.”

Washington said after the meeting he believes small airports have to be more aggressive in soliciting business for their facilities.

“A lot of small airports think ‘we’re here, and the people are going to come, anyway,’” he said. “You have to make an effort to go out and get people to come to you.”

Airport manager Shawn Kelly asked Flaggs to keep the airport open.

“This airport has a lot of growth potential,” he said. “I believe this is the best tool for our city and its future. We want the opportunity to make that happen.”

Washington said he was developing a master plan for improving the airport, including improvements to the second story of the terminal building. He has submitted proposals for a self-service fuel station and improving the airport’s fuel truck.

“I believe we’re missing a lot of business on the weekends because we don’t have self-serve fueling,” he said, adding the airport now has a callout system where a pilot calls an airport employee on the weekend who comes and fuels the plane. He said the airport has had the lowest fuel prices in the region, and its weekend business is increasing.

Washington estimated it could take up to five years to close the airport.

Besides reimbursing the FAA and the Mississippi Department of Transportation and requiring congressional approval, he said, the tenant pilots would have to find new airports for their planes and the city would have to remove the airport’s infrastructure.

If the planes went to VTR, he said, the airport there would have to build more hangars to accommodate the extra planes. That project, he said, could take at least two years, provided the airport had the money to build.

Flaggs called the meeting “very productive and very informative and educational. I think we’re lucky to have Sam Washington. He’s very knowledgeable. I think he’s on top of it and I’m impressed with it, and they are at full capacity as it relates to the hangars and planes. I was surprised that neither one of the aldermen or their staff was there to get the information. It was good.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said Friday afternoon he talked with Washington and Kelly, and toured the airport that morning. He said he visited VTR earlier in the week.

“I walked the property, studied the drainage and the trees and discussed several topics,” he said, adding he plans to return to the municipal airport and take a helicopter tour of the property.”

Thompson said he was already familiar with both airports, adding he has visited them several times.

Flaggs said the helicopter flight “was very helpful. I got to see the approach, and she (Kelly) was able to give me the height we were flying, and I talked to her as a pilot, and that was very helpful.”

Flaggs said he was looking at the airport from an economic standpoint and as a tool for economic development in the future.

“That’s the question: is it important for us to maintain our airport and at the same time support Tallulah airport for economic development?” he said.

He said Gov. Phil Bryant, who was in Vicksburg Wednesday for a fundraiser; “pledged to me that economic development will be a priority in his next administration. All off that weighs in the decision. He pledged to me that the resources we have here are invaluable to the state’s future.”

After his visit to VTR, Flaggs said, “I’m going to be ready to make a decision and be done with it.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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