TUPELO • If it lands a $550,000 multi-modal grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Tupelo Regional Airport will add covered parking next to the terminal. In addition, it will add solar panels that will provide about 40% of the terminal’s electricity.

The Tupelo Regional Airport board approved the application for the grant, which also calls for a $125,000 local match. The money for the match won’t come from city coffers, however; rather, it will come from the federal economic disruption grant it received last month.

That grant – part of nearly $35 million doled out to 74 airfields across the state – totaled $1,055,781 for Tupelo.

“The multi-modal grant would allow us to go to the south end of the terminal, enclose and add covered parking, and we’d charge $5 per car to park,” said Cliff Nash, the airport’s executive director. The south parking lot contains 28 spaces, but could be expanded a bit if needed.

“Barring any findings from a reflectivity study, we’ll add roughly 400 solar panels, “ he added.

With the solar panels providing some of the electricity for the terminal, the airport should save about $46,000 a year in utility costs.

Thus, the local matching grant will have paid for itself within three years.

The reflectivity study will be needed to ensure that the panels don’t cause a glare for landing aircraft. Some consultants have already advised that they will not be problem. However, if the study proves otherwise, the airport will look to put the solar panels on land.

But that would incur additional costs of building a fence around it and landscaping it. The rooftop panels are preferred by the airport because it will mean less maintenance.

If approved for the multi-modal grant, the airport has two years to complete the project.

“This would be phase one and two of a three-phase project,” Nash said. “The third phase would be adding additional panels in the green area between the administrative offices and the terminal. Then we could generate 85% of our electricity for the terminal, the office and the tower.”

The airport also paid off a revolving loan to MDA. The balance was nearly $66,000 of a $200,000 loan for the renovation of the fixed-base operator.

“This will save us $24,000 a year for the next four years we would have had to pay out,” Nash said.

Enplanements still suffering

With the COVID-19 pandemic all but grounding air travel in March and April, the number of passenger boardings plummeted.

Contour has counted more than 10,000 passengers for three consecutive years leading into 2020, and for the first two months of the year was 24% ahead of last year.

But in March, when the pandemic began to spread mid-month, boardings fell to 811, a 37% drop from a year earlier. In April, the boardings saw a 93% drop to only 87. Last month, boardings improved to 292, but that’s still an 80% decline from last year.

“The enplanements are improving, and the trend seems to be headed in the right direction,” Nash said.

The drop in passenger traffic also affected car rental revenue, which through May is down by 25%.

dennis.seid@journalinc.com

Twitter: @dennisseid

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