Sep. 6—TUPELO — Officials with the Tupelo Regional Airport say they will review security procedures after Saturday's incident in which a plane was stolen by a Flight-Based Operator (FBO) employee.
"We're doing a review to see if there's anything we could have done," said airport director Joe Wheeler. "We'll be meeting with the TSA (on Sept. 7) for a debriefing, and we'll go from there."
The plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft, was stolen in the early morning hours by Cory Patterson, a 10-year employee of Tupelo Aviation, the FBO where the plane was parked.
A typical FBO provides services such as fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction and similar services at an airport.
Patterson took off in the plane at 5:08 a.m. on Sept. 3, then called 911 and threatened to crash the plane into the West Main Street Walmart. He later flew north, and about five hours after stealing the plane, landed in a field in Tippah County, where he was arrested.
Wheeler said Patterson was a line supervisor, which meant he had a key to the FBO.
"I've been racking my brain over this," Wheeler said. "I reached out to a friend who is an airline security expert, and he said there was really nothing we could do."
On college game days, Tupelo Aviation employees are busy with private planes typically arriving for an Ole Miss football game. While the airport in Oxford is the primary destination for most planes, Tupelo can accommodate larger planes since it has a longer and wider runway.
On Saturday, Patterson arrived a little earlier than usual, Wheeler said, and was the only Tupelo Aviation employee at the time.
"On game days, they typically have someone come in at 6 to open up, then others arrive at 7 a.m. and afterward," Wheeler said. "He was a little early, but a lot of people including myself show up early for work sometimes."
Wheeler said Patterson was a good worker and often cheery.
"You don't know what person might be thinking, so I don't know what could have been done in this case to prevent what happened," Wheeler said.
The tower doesn't open until 6 a.m., either, but Wheeler said once it did open, tower personnel tried to talk Patterson into bringing the plane back, to no avail.
Nashville-based AMS is the parent company of Tupelo Aviation, one of five FBOs in its portfolio. AMS took over management of Tupelo Aviation from the airport in a privatization move designed as a cost-saving measure. In 2017, AMS bought Tupelo Aviation for $1.45 million.
Wheeler said AMS also will be involved in the review of the FBO's operations. No timeline was provided as to when the review might be completed.
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