New manager brings vision to Natchez-Adams County airport

Published 11:58 pm Monday, September 11, 2017

By Clara Turnage

NATCHEZ — The new Natchez-Adams County Airport manager says he has big dreams for the airfield and Southwest Mississippi.

Ronald Hall said he recognized the opportunity for growth in Natchez’s airport when he started in late July.

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“What I saw was a blank slate. We can do a lot,” Hall said. “I saw a regional-sized airport that’s very under-utilized and under-promoted …  I don’t think the area realizes the asset that they have here.”

Some of his hopes are cosmetic. Hall wants to update the terminals and storage facilities to concierge-level service to draw in new customers. These updates, he said, should be a priority for Natchez as well as for the airport.

“Airports are the gateway to a community,” Hall said. “They’re the first and last thing you see when you go to a city. If people come here and see a run down airport, they’re going to think your town is run-down — even if it’s subconscious.”

First on his agenda is to create an airport master plan — a report compiled by a third-party assessor that looks at the capabilities of the airport and the needs of the community.

The plan will be used to help steer development of the airport with the help of the Federal Aviation Administration and state.

These plans usually are reviewed every five years and updated every 10 years. Hall said the last plan for the airport that he has been able to locate was created in 1974 and has not been updated since.

Hall said he also wants to propose a name change.

“Natchez-Adams County is very localized,” he said. “We should be something along the lines of — just throwing out a name here — Southwest Mississippi Regional Airport. Everybody in the country knows where Southwest Mississippi is.”

When Hurricane Harvey lashed the Houston area, Hall said many humanitarian pilots stopped in Natchez on their way to rescue flood victims and provide aid.

Hall said he wanted to show that Natchez supported these efforts, so he negotiated a discount for pilots assisting hurricane victims.

He lowered the price of jet fuel — normally $3.97 a gallon — by 40 cents. Between hurricane’s Harvey and Irma, he said he has seen many planes take advantage of the offer.

The discount served the dual purpose of helping humanitarian missions and promoted the Natchez airport, he said.

One of the plans he is most passionate about, however, is creating a vocational technical training program in conjunction with local schools

The program he envisions would provide students with airplane and powerplant licenses when they graduate high school and would put them on the path to receiving an aviation technician’s license.

Businesses which require such technicians, he said, would come to Natchez to hire new workers, benefitting both the community and the airport.

“The airport cannot develop without the community,” he said. “It’s hand-in-hand.”

Theodore Johnson, a member of the Adams County Airport Commission, said he is excited about the energy Hall is bringing to the facility.

“He has aggressive ideas about what he wants to get done,” Johnson said. “I like what he’s trying to do.”

Johnson said Hall dreams big — but there is a good possibility those dreams will come to fruition.

Hall said he has always wanted to work above the clouds, although not an airport manager, initially.

When he was in high school in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio, Hall said he wanted to be an astronaut.

His home was close to an airport and airplanes flew overhead all day, he said. He eventually decided against trying to become an astronaut, but Hall said he wanted to be above the clouds.

At Ohio State University, he majored in aeronautical engineering and before he graduated, an advisor told him to try airport management.

“I fell into and loved it,” he said. “Some days I’ll be out cutting grass; the next day I’ll be negotiating a lease or working on policies.”

He worked first in New Orleans, then in Northwest Arkansas, then Jackson, Michigan, Florida and Kansas. After approximately 15 years, he decided to take a break to be near his sons.

When his sons, Greg and Daniel, started college, he decided it was time to get back to the airfield.

When he took the Natchez job, it was the first position back in aviation he’s had since 2006.

His experience and enthusiasm, airport commission member Thomas Borum said, is what made him stand out from the dozens of applicants the airport received.

“He’s full of knowledge and we’re very fortunate to have him,” Borum said.

Borum, who has been flying planes for more than 20 years, said he never gets better service than at Natchez-Adams County Airport. With the help of Hall, he hopes to keep it that way.