Parish airport authority looks past financial woes to new improvements

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Tax turbulence behind it, the Concordia Parish Airport is looking forward to clear skies ahead.

&8220;We&8217;ve got that whole thing behind us and are excited about moving forward,&8221; Concordia Parish Airport Authority Board Chairman Carl Sayers said.

Moving forward includes getting new, credit card reading gas pumps, two new hangars and an aircraft mechanic.

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The pumps would allow for unattended service, thereby increasing income from sales; the new hangars would allow increase rental income from an additional 20 planes.

The mechanic would rent workspace from the airport, providing another revenue stream as well as having someone on the grounds more regularly.

And because the projects will be funded by Federal Aviation Authority and the Louisiana Department of Transportation grants, it won&8217;t cost the taxpayers of Concordia Parish a penny.

And though economic times are tough, Sayers said he is confident the projects will get funded and help the airport become financially self-sufficient by 2009.

Sayers hopes to have the airport&8217;s income up 750 percent &8212; to $35,000 per year &8212; in that time.

The airport authority receives $13,500 from the police jury, money that is anything but wasted, Sayers said.

&8220;It&8217;s another tool in economic development,&8221; he said. &8220;Anyone bringing money to

develop in the parish is not going to come in by bus; first impressions are lasting and we want to make a good first impression.&8221;

Not to say corporate fat cats scouting for business sites are the only people touching down on the airport&8217;s 3,750-foot runway.

Jim Mead flew from Jonesboro, Ark.

Tuesday in his Cessna 150 &8212; the aeronautic version of a 1970 Beetle &8212; looking for farming equipment.

Given the choice, he said he&8217;d prefer to land in a smaller airport because of the decreased traffic and having an airport was &8220;absolutely good for a small community.&8221;

But the airport authority has had some difficult times. Past mismanagement meant the airport owed more than $40,000 to the Internal Revenue Service.

The airport authority was granted permission by the Concordia Parish Police Jury Monday to borrow $44,798.52 to settle a bill for back taxes stemming from 1997-2004.

Sayers, who joined the board in 2003 and was elected chairman in 2005, said he noticed upon his arrival &8220;things weren&8217;t running right.&8221;

The airport&8217;s lone employee, Chastity Cowan, had been only sporadically sending in payroll taxes to the IRS.

When Sayers and the board got a hold of the books and saw the problem, they immediately filed the 2004 taxes and contacted the IRS about making things right.

Sayers, who oversees regulatory and environmental safety matters for Callon Petroleum, said the airport runs on a volunteer basis and the books are in order.

&8220;The first thing we did was see that we didn&8217;t need an employee and got the books straight,&8221; he said.

That&8217;s good news for the much larger Natchez-Adams County Airport as well.

Manager Clint Pomeroy said the two were not really in competition and that the communal nature of flyers extended to both sides of the river.

&8220;We know their pilots and they know ours,&8221; he said. &8220;It&8217;s nice that they serve their market and we serve ours over here.&8221;