City airport traffic slow amid hard economy, fuel tank project

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 23, 2009

With the McComb-Pike County Airport closed until mid- tolate-August while its 5,000-foot runway is repaved, the BrookhavenMunicipal Airport could see increased air traffic – if anyone wereflying.

Corporate jets aren’t flying much in these uncertain financialtimes, and McComb’s private plane owners are just going to stand onthe brakes and stay out of the sky while the 30-day paving projectis carried out, said Perry McKinney, part owner of the airport’sfixed base operator, Air Services of Mississippi.

“The last couple of months, traffic for us and everybody elsehas been really low,” he said. “Business jet traffic is reallyfalling off. People are just not sure if they want to invest theirmoney.”

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Even if the corporate jets were taking to the skies, not manywould be coming to Brookhaven.

Paul Barnett, chairman of BMA’s advisory committee, said acombination of limited hangar space and an inadequate InstrumentLanding System puts the city’s airport at risk to lose traffic toother airports, like Hammond or Baton Rouge. Plane owners are “lessthan eager” to leave their aircraft outside in the weather, hesaid, and the airports with a more advanced ILS will attractaircraft planning to fly while the weather is less than ideal.

“That makes them more desirable for a standpoint of jettraffic,” Barnett said. “But this time of year, that’s not reallymuch of an issue.”

Barnett said the airport would likely receive a small boost frompilots stopping over for fuel en route to other destinations, butthat boost won’t be possible until the facility refills its tankswith aviation gasoline. The airport still has plenty of Jet A fuelused by jets, turbo props and helicopters, but has been out ofavgas since last week, he said.

The decision was made to go without fuel because the facility’stwo new, 12,000-gallon fuel tanks are installed and should behooked up within a week. It would cost even more to pump the fuelout of the old tanks and into the new ones, Barnett said.

“The contract for installing the new tanks calls for the removalof the old tanks, and to get the fuel transferred to the new tankswould cost a couple thousand more dollars,” he said.

The project to install the new aboveground tanks began in May,and costs around $300,000. The underground fuel farm they arereplacing was 40 years old, and has had leakage problems in thepast.

Once the new tanks are online, however, the airport will be ableto reap some small benefits from air travelers.

Airport manager Dr. Al Morrow said the Brookhaven strip has thecapacity to handle anyone who wants to stop. Visiting pilots areallowed the key code to enter the office and even use of theairport vehicle during their stopover.

Morrow said medical air services may opt to use Brookhaven’sairport to transfer patients to McComb’s Southwest MississippiRegional Medical Center.

“We may get some of the air ambulances from places like LittleRock (Ark.) and Monroe (La.) – they may have to come intoBrookhaven for delivery of patients and use the ambulance to takethem down to Pike County,” he said.