Concordia facility officials, flyboys say new grant needed for improvements

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 15, 2005

VIDALIA, La. &045; If this airport has things going its way now, it’s probably because of some loyal friends.

Every Saturday morning a handful of old flyboys meet in the small building in front of the hangar that used to be the airport terminal at the Concordia Parish Airport.

They have breakfast &045; everybody throws in a few dollars for next week’s meal &045; while swapping stories and hanging out at the airport, just outside Vidalia on Airport Road.

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These are the same men who mow the grass, unlock the gates and do repair and maintenance work at the airport themselves most of the time, doing their best to keep the facility in tip-top shape. They have to, given the rather meager income the airport gets &045; $1,125 a month from the parish police jury, money collected from fuel sales and $40 a month per plane from hangar fees. Two Mardi Gras floats and two repossessed cropdusters also pay rent for using hangar space.

Most of that revenue is used just to maintain the airport.

Mike McCrory, one of the Saturday morning guys, showed off the airport’s main hangar, which is full to the brim.

&uot;You have to open seven doors to get a plane out and that can take 20 minutes sometimes,&uot; McCrory said. &uot;We’re working to get a convenient way for pilots to access their planes.&uot;

McCrory is the cook at the Saturday morning get-togethers, though everyone pitches in to help out.

&uot;Mike likes to cook and he likes to socialize,&uot; Jerry Stallings said. &uot;He started inviting some of his friends out and this is what it turned into. It’s a good place to get together if you can stand a few lies.&uot;

Stallings, the Concordia Airport Authority treasurer, is one of the men dedicated to helping this airport. He built &045; from scratch &045; his first plane in 1977. He still flies in another he built a few years later, a single-engine two-seater he took to Wisconsin and back a few weeks ago for a fly-in, a large gathering of pilots from across the country.

He and the other men have been effectively running the airport since taking over from the last airport manager.

&uot;The airport authority started running (the airport) because things weren’t being done like we thought they should be,&uot; Stallings said.

&uot;The airport’s begun to progress from the stagnant state it was in. The police jury’s been giving us more support, as has the state. In the past, we’ve been promised things, but nothing has happened. It didn’t happen because they didn’t see the interest from local authorities. Now it’s starting to happen.&uot;

This little airport certainly has big plans, plans that will transform the airport and could take a hand in transforming the economic outlook of the parish.

&uot;A lot of people think this is a country club that only benefits a few people,&uot; Stallings said.

&uot;But overall, if you want industry, you need an airport. With Vidalia being as aggressive as it’s been and Ferriday with its industrial park, the airport will be utilized like it should be &045; by industry.&uot;

Those plans are very much in the works. To start with, there’s a $490,033 grant the airport has secured to build a new taxiway in preparation for building new hangars next year. Those hangars are needed to house more planes and to help ease the strain on the main hangar, which is packed to the gills.

A self-service fuel station will also be built in the next few months, which should make fueling planes easier and faster. Now, pilots have to call to get an airport worker to come out and fuel planes.

The main hangar’s roof also needs some work. It’s rusting badly, and the last thing this airport needs is for anything to happen to the limited hangar space available right now.

Grant money expected in 2006 will pay for new runway lights.

The ones in place right now don’t flare up like they should when planes are coming in &045; they’re permanently on low-beam.

And then there’s always the ultimate dream &045; stretching the current 3,700-foot runway out to around 5,000 feet so that larger planes will feel more comfortable landing. Stallings said small jets can use the shorter runway but are reluctant to do so.

&uot;It’s kind of a Catch-22,&uot; Stallings said. &uot;The FAA wants to see the numbers of those jets that come here before they’ll give money, but those jets won’t come here until the runway’s longer.&uot;