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Fuel prices attract planes to Natchez airport

JULIA NAGY/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez-Adams County Airport Manager Clint Pomeroy talks with John Cook, who stopped at the airport last week to fuel his plane.

By Julia Nagy/The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Airport Manager Clint Pomeroy deals with the “limousines” of aviation. The private planes. The corporate jets. The chartered aircraft.

And for the 28 years Pomeroy has led the county airport — or at least the part of that in his recent memory — business has remained pretty stable.

“We’re sort of flat, neither busy nor slack,” Pomeroy said.

It’s small-town fuel prices that attract much of the airport’s business, Pomeroy said.

“(In) the big city, you pay big city prices,” Pomeroy said. “We’re not the cheapest, but we’re by no means the most expensive.”

The airport charges $4.90 a gallon for jet fuel. In larger cities, the price can run as high as $8.

Fuel revenues, the largest revenue generator for the airport, are expected to bring in $667,000 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The fuel is what attracted John Cook, who has stopped at the airport multiple times, last week.

Cook, originally from South Africa, flies around the world working on airplane engines.

“They have jet fuel and a hangar,” Cook said about the airport.

The airport also attracts experimental aircraft built by the owners.

“It’s not unusual for us to see,” Pomeroy said. “The aircraft itself can be unusual.”

Hangars at the airport store locals’ planes and are budgeted to bring in $55,000 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Customers spend anywhere from $70 to $165 a month for usage of the north hangar.

The airport, which receives $193,980 from county tax appropriations, has a budget of $938,580 for current year.

It employs seven people, linemen who help fuel, park and assist customers.

Oil field companies, Belk and Dollar General are among the companies which use the airport three or four times a year. Executives and investors from the Magnolia Bluffs Casino and members of the gaming commission have flown in recently as well.

Pomeroy said he loves meeting all the pilots.

“I’ve got people I know all over the country that come through,” Pomeroy said. “Pilots in general are just nice folks to be around.”

The airport has a long runway, which is an advantage Pomeroy said, allowing it to act as a pit stop for planes.

It can take in aircraft as large as a Boeing 727 200 and can take non-scheduled aircraft.

The airport’s small terminal, with a few rows of gray chairs, will see its first upgrade in years the coming months.

Pomeroy hopes to bring the 1950s style terminal up-to-date, given many customers are just passing through, using the airport as a pit stop. Pomeroy plans to spend approximately $140,000 to remodel the bathrooms, repair old woodwork and update the heating system.

Ninety-nine percent of the funding will come from the Mississippi Department of Transportation Multi-Modal grant fund.

Pomeroy wants to make it look less like an airport terminal and more like a fixed-based operation. That means there will be more office space and a flight planning room for the pilots.

He hopes to start building in February.