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VOL. 127 | NO. 195 | Friday, October 05, 2012

Change on Way for Bolivar Airport

By Bill Dries

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Those in Bolivar, Tenn., will have a chance to walk the runway of the Hardeman County Airport Saturday, Oct. 6, and take a look around an airport that recently came back to life.

The 5K walk-run is a chance to show off the improvements the Hardeman County government made to the airport with funding from the Tennessee Department of Transportation that has provided 90 percent of the money for the upgrade.

The runway on the William L. Whitehurst Memorial Field is now extended from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet.

The airport has remained a place for pilots to fly their small aircraft since the pilot training school closed in 1993. But it hasn’t had a fixed-base operator for some time.

Without a fixed-base operator, maintenance has lagged. The T-hangar is showing its age.

All of the security measures that other airports increased after the 9-11 terrorist attacks are just now a part of the recent catch up development plan Hardeman County government leaders mapped out approximately five years ago.

More importantly, the airport has been out of the running in the competition for fuel sales to not only pilots in the area but small aircraft pilots who may be passing through.

“We’re not making any bones about it,” said Dennis O’Connor, the airport director since January. “Once we get our Jet AV facility in, we want to tell people in Memphis who are there or those who come to Memphis on business trips and drop off their passengers for there – they can hop over here, fill up their tanks and not really burn that much fuel to go back to Memphis to pick up their passengers and return home at the end of their business day.”

The Bolivar airport now offers only one type of fuel that is for piston aircraft. Construction on the new fuel facility is to begin by the end of this year.

An Olive Branch flight school that recently opened at the airport is still paying rent but is working through some procedural problems before it can resume a service that should boost local traffic.

But O’Connor is also working on building transient air traffic that will stop there on its way to and from other destinations. During the third quarter, transient traffic was a bit higher than local traffic.

O’Connor was hired by Hardeman County government after a career working in administrative positions at airports in Burbank, Calif., and Peterboro, N.J., where he worked primarily in noise and environmental compliance.

Hardeman County Mayor Willie E. Spencer said county government got involved with state transportation grants funding 90 to 95 percent of the capital costs so far. The hope is that fuel sales and rentals of hangar space will make the airport self-sustaining.

“We want to be able to get our airport to the point where we will eventually be a place of choice for those kinds of companies that are right outside of the Memphis area,” Spencer said.

A Canadian company gave the Bolivar airport a close look in a move that might have resulted in a construction of a new hangar but passed. Spencer is hopeful it won’t be the last time tenants look over the property.

The cattle fence that once surrounded the airfield is gone and the security fence only lacks one section. A security camera system is on the way.

O’Connor says a new terminal building is probably several years away on some land across a road from where the existing terminal building is now.

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