Hearing Tuesday on Tupelo Airport extension

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Nov. 08--TUPELO -- A public hearing will be held Tuesday at the Tupelo Regional Airport to address the environmental impact of plans to extend the runway 650 feet to the north.

The meeting, to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the conference room before the monthly meeting of the Tupelo Airport Authority, also will address:

- Widening the existing parallel taxiway from 50 feet to 60 feet.

- Improving the runway safety area, or RSA, which is a graded, grassed overrun that will be 500 feet wide and extend 1,000 feet beyond each end of the runway.

- Installing lighting on the runway extension and the parallel taxiway extension.

- Relocating the existing PAPI, or Precision Approach Path Indicators.

- Installing a MALSAR, or Medium-intensity Approach Lighting System with Runway Alignment Indicator, lights on runway 18.

- Expansion of the existing terminal parking area.

The airport authority two years ago had received approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the runway to the north by 1,000 feet, but vocal opposition to plans to temporarily close and shift West Jackson Street Extended derailed those plans.

After former Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Terry Anderson was fired last December and an authority member resigned in the wake of that move, the remaining board members opted to conduct a new runway extension study earlier this year.

The board then voted to approve a 650-foot extension to the north and a 350-foot extension to the south, thus avoiding having to close West Jackson Extended.

Because the scope of the original project was changed, a new environmental assessment had to be conducted -- at a cost of $1,200.

The new runway project will be 95 percent funded by the FAA -- with the local match to cost about $300,000 -- and will be split into two parts, officials say. The north runway extension is expected to begin sometime next year. No timetable has been set for the extension to the south.

"Right now the airport authority is focusing all of its efforts on the north," said Tupelo Regional Airport Executive Director Josh Abramson. "This 650-foot extension will bring the total runway length to 7,150 feet, a step that will help the airport mitigate the loss of operations with only 6,500 feet of runway. Also this is a safer length for aircraft and a better marketing tool for airport industrial development."

An extension to the south could be problematic -- and expensive. The study showed that a city fire station would have to be moved, as well as a branch of BancorpSouth. Runway equipment also would have to be moved.

And critics say that a runway extension is unnecessary, given that commercial airline passenger traffic has fallen by more than 50 percent since 2006 and that other potential airport users, like cargo companies, haven't publicly committed to using a longer runway.

Still, the airport authority is convinced that a longer runway will be needed for the future.

For example, Delta Air Lines, which provides federally subsidized commercial air service to Tupelo, is weeding out its Saab turboprop aircraft and switching to larger regional jets, commonly called CRJs. The authority says an extension is necessary to make room for the CRJs. And it says it is in the process of choosing professional airline consults to help with the expansion of air service at the airport.

Contact Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.

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