Transformation in the Delta

As gaming boosts area economy, Tunica Airport expands; eyes scheduled service

The Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau is in full support of the airport’s development, relates Franklin, and has put up marketing dollars in the past to attract scheduled air service.

TUnica Air Center
The airport opened in September of 2003 with a 5,500-foot runway and taxiway, and an airport-owned and operated FBO, Tunica Air Center. The FBO does not provide aircraft rental, flight training, or maintenance. The maintenance center on the field, Tunica Air Group, leases the airport’s only hangar and provides much of the aircraft maintenance for the casino charter programs.

There really isn’t a demand for flight training or aircraft rental, says Nash, yet part of the goal with the airport and its relationship with the gaming industry is to bring in charter flights as well as entities like Tunica Air Group, “that come in and form a company that will attract other business, which helps us diversify rather than being dependant on just the gaming industry,” relates Nash.

Fueling is Tunica Air Center’s biggest profit center. Says Nash, “As an old airport director at a small airport down the road that had a third-party FBO, I was constantly trying to convince the city and the commission that we should own and operate an FBO for the fuel sales. It’s a tremendous revenue generator; and also a tremendous marketing arm.

“A lot of airports that are thriving may not want to deal with the risk associated with fueling; at the airports I’m familiar with, it makes a lot more sense to provide the fuel yourself and control the costs so that you don’t price it out of the market. The result is an increase in revenue of nearly seven- or eight-fold. In Tunica’s case, it made absolutely good sense for the airport to provide the fueling.

“When I was hired, that was one of the fundamental questions that the commission asked in the interview process. I recommended that the airport should initially be the FBO; then at some point if it grows and can support third-party activity, then it can be sold off.”

The airport provides all ground handling services, charter companies included. This means check-in, baggage handling, aircraft servicing, customer ground transportation coordination, etc. Last year, the airport pumped some three million gallons of fuel, says Nash. The bulk of those sales were into-plane for charter aircraft, and not retail.

NBAA’s 62nd Annual: Tunica Exhibits

Says Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau president and CEO Webster Franklin, “NBAA is a good way for the Tunica Airport to gain exposure within the airport community. Our goal there is to take an area that had a rural agricultural strip as early as 2000, and in today’s terms, let people know that we are positioned for growth, whether it be on the airfield, with corporate aviation, or with scheduled service.
“One of the things that is not talked about so much is the vast amount of land around the airport that is developable. We think that is something that we will take advantage of in the future; and businesses can take advantage of as well.
“So we exhibit at the annual convention to get exposure and to let people know who we are, and to let them know what the story of Tunica is.
“We are located in the Mississippi Delta; it’s an agricultural area and it’s very flat. There’s land around it as far as the eye can see; and while not all of that is controlled by the airport commission or Tunica County, a large majority of it is. We can grow as much as we need to and are not inhibited by things around us to do so.”

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