TUPELO – Cliff Nash's last day as executive director of the Tupelo Regional Airport is Dec. 1, ending a 5 1/2-year tenure that saw the return of reliable air service and a much improved financial situation.
Nash has served in his role since May 2015.
He had originally planned to retire next March when he turned 65, but other opportunities cropped up. After talking to his wife, he decided it would be an ideal time to step down.
“Things just accelerated, and I just really want to thank the board for the opportunity to come here and work with the city to get air service back,” Nash said.
Tupelo Airport Board chairman Eric Gibens said airport operations director Mel Pomfrey, who came aboard in 2017, will serve as interim director while the board searches for a new permanent director.
“We don’t have a firm date set on conducting the search for a new director, but we do hope Mel will consider applying for the position,” Gibens said.
When Nash arrived, SeaPort Airlines was in its death throes. The company finally pulled out of Tupelo Regional Airport in October 2015 after nearly two years of inconsistent service. Tupelo was without air service for five months, until Contour Airlines took over in April 2016.
Until the coronavirus pandemic stifled air travel nationwide, passenger boardings at Tupelo’s airport had increased annually under Contour, reaching at least 10,000 boardings for three consecutive years. That benchmark was last seen in the mid-2000s, when Tupelo was served by two airlines.
“We’ve gotten all our facilities leased and gotten everything back operationally, and we’ve done a lot of improvements,” Nash said. “Financially, we’re on good footing. The CARES Act money helped, but even without it, we have amassed a five-year capital improvement plan that in theory we can go the next six years we can do everything we want to do with AIP (federally funded Airport Improvement Plan) grant money, providing we assume we continue to receive the entitlement money.”
The 10,000-passenger threshold allows airports to receive $1-million in AIP money that can be used for only airport infrastructure projects such as runways, taxiways, airport signage, airport lighting and airport markings.
“We can do things beyond pure need, it allows us to do day-to-day maintenance and other things to attract more revenue,” Nash said. “There are a lot of things we can still do better … but I think I’m leaving the airport in better shape than when I got here.”
Nash has put in motion a two-year roadmap that will bring more improvements to the airport. The first project is renovating the tower, which hasn't had any major work done to it since it was built 20 years ago. Also arriving soon is a new fire truck, replacing a 25-year-old model.
The new fire truck, Nash said, will allow Tupelo Regional to continue supporting the Ole Miss athletic teams' charter flights and other sports charter flights that take advantage of Tupelo's 7,150-foot runway.
"Those charter not only affect the airport with landing and fuel, but they'll come in and stay here at the hotels and eat, and so it has a tremendous economic impact," he said.
Another project coming to fruition is the installation of an ADS-B ground transmitter that will aid planes landing when the tower is closed.
"Those are things that need to be done and will be done in the coming year," Nash said. "So we have a road map to follow, and we can adjust it if necessary.The satisfying thing we can do these things in-house, using our own money."
Nash came to Tupelo after playing an instrumental role in developing the Tunica Airport, where he had worked since 2002. Before that, he served as airport director in Greenville from 1995 to 2002.
Nash served in the U.S. Air Force as an air traffic control officer in both fixed and mobile facilities and performed air space management duties that included redesigning the airspace used by the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana.
An Oxford native, he received his Bachelor of Engineering degree from the University of Mississippi in 1982 and earned his Master of Aeronautical Science degree from Embry-Middle Aeronautical University.