HANCOCK COUNTY -- Officials broke ground Friday on a new air traffic control tower at Stennis International Airport in a bid to grab a bigger piece of the air cargo business.
While officials were conducting the groundbreaking ceremony for the seven-story tower, much of the interest was on the personnel loading a huge Air Force C-5 Galaxy with a half-dozen armored security vehicles. Built in New Orleans, they are headed for Iraq.
This was the third shipment from the airport of the 29,000-pound Armored Security Vehicles, which are built by Textron Marine and Land in New Orleans.
The small private planes on the runway at Stennis were dwarfed by the C-5, which is 247 feet long and 65 feet high with a wingspan of nearly 223 feet. It's big enough to carry six tour buses.
It's planes like the C-5, one of the largest aircraft manufactured in the United States, that the airport is interested in attracting.
Cargo and business air traffic at Stennis Space Center have increased. With the addition of the new tower, planes restricted to using airports with controlled airspace will be able to operate easily at Stennis International Airport, which has an 8,500-foot runway.
"We are already shipping Armored Security Vehicles from Stennis airport directly to Iraq, and these missions and others will be made safer by the addition of the new tower," said airport manager Bill Cotter.
Expected to be completed before year's end, officials said, the $2 million project is the final improvement needed to make the airport a major player in the air cargo business.