Longtime airport director leaves legacy
Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 1, 2015
NATCHEZ —William D. “Billy” Simmons was a true pioneer of flight.
“Everybody who flew an airplane in Natchez knew (Simmons),” said Cappy Stahlman of River View Park in Vidalia.
Simmons, the long-time manager of the Adams County Airport, died Sunday. He was 89.
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Mauk Farr and Simmons were named by the Adams County Board of Supervisors to manage and operate the Natchez-Adams County Airport in 1949.
“(Simmons) was the first airport manager,” said Natchez-Adams County Airport Manager Clint Pomeroy.
Pomeroy became the new airport manager in 1989, when Simmons retired.
During Simmons’ time as manager, he sought to make significant changes to better the airport.
“He was instrumental in expanding the length of the primary runway and successful in getting an instrument landing system on the runway through a congressional mandate,” Pomeroy said. “The lengthened runway made it so we could operate pretty much all of the jet aircraft operating at the time, especially those that serviced mid-length distances —your 727 and 737 small bodied jets, which means it enables us to handle practically every business jet on the market.”
The instrument landing system, Pomeroy said, allows aircraft to land at low cloud ceilings and in low visibility weather.
“It is one of the best instrument approaches airports can have,” Pomeroy said. “It allowed us to become much more of an all-weather airport.”
Among many of Simmons’ accomplishments include building the airport terminal building in 1959 and renovating it in 1983, the construction of the fire and crash building in 1965, and the installation of lights on the north/south taxiway in 1965.
But despite his strong business approach, Simmons was also a man of character.
“He would do anything for you,” Stahlman said. “To me, he was Mr. Airport.”
Stahlman said his father, Bill Stahlman, was a great friend with Simmons.
“I was 10 years old when I met (Simmons),” Stahlman said. “He later gave me some instructions on flying planes.”
Pomeroy said when Simmons was director — it was a family type operation.
“(Simmons) lived just up the hill from the airport,” Pomeroy said. “So even after he retired, he would come down from time to time and see what we were doing.
“He was always interested in what we were doing.”
Services for Simmons will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church with Dr. Doug Broome officiating.
Burial will follow at the Natchez City Cemetery under the direction of Laird Funeral Home. Visitation will be from 9:30 a.m. until service time Saturday at the church.