Airport under consideration for UAV flights
The Golden Triangle Regional Airport Authority discussed a Federal Aviation Administration safety award, airline operations and unmanned aerial vehicle flights at their Feb. 17 meeting.
The airport won the FAA Southern Region Air Carrier Airport Safety Award, said Executive Director Mike Hainsey. The Southern Region includes eight states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
“Any airport that has an air carrier is eligible,” he said. “There were five airports nominated, and we were probably the smallest.”
Hainsey said GTRA competed against much larger airports, including Tampa, Florida.
“Out of all the awards, the safety one is the most important,” he said.
January 2011 was a strong month for the airport, Hainsey said.
“We started the year well,” Hainsey said. “For the month of January we are up 6.5%. That’s a real good number. That’s the best number we’ve had since January 2003.
“I met with the chief planner for Delta,” he said. “I wanted to know from the head guy how we stand, especially with all the issues with air service in this state. The bottom line is that they are very pleased with our performance. I also wanted to orient them with our industry and all the industry so they’d realize we are a growing market.”
GTRA isn’t eligible for new flights yet, he said.
“Before we get a new flight, we need to get our load factors up more,” Hainsey said. “One issue Delta has right now is that they’re short on regional jets. They are currently in markets they didn’t think they would be in, such as Tupelo and Hattiesburg, which they had announced they were leaving. The Saabs [turboprops] were retired, so they have to hold the regional jets in those markets until they can get someone else in there.” [The Essential Air Service program was put into place during deregulation in the late 1970s. It guarantees air service to communities that already had it when deregulation occurred. Delta must continue to provide service to markets it is pulling out of until a new carrier can be found to take over. – Brian Jones] “Tupelo, Hattiesburg and Greeneville all got about the same proposals for their air service,” Hainsey said. “They all consisted of Cessna Caravans, which is a single-engine prop plane that seats about eight people. They have some major issues. For example when passengers arrives at Memphis or Nashville, which is what the proposals are, they would then have to go through screening. You basically would get off the plane, grab your bags and then go check in at the Delta counter. You might as well drive.”
The new FAA bill will require the FAA to create six sites across the country where unmanned aircraft can be tested in the national airspace system.
“Mississippi will have one of those sites,” Hainsey said. “The question is whether it will be us, Camp Shelby or Stennis.”
Stark Aerospace has an FAA Certificate of Authorization to fly unmanned aircraft out of GTRA currently, Hainsey said, and plans are moving ahead for the first GTR-based UAV flight.
“There are only maybe two other commercial service airports in the country that have a COA,” he said. “They are working actively to try to do that soon, possibly next month. We’re working closely with them. You will see within the next two weeks people working down there to put all the control equipment in.”
Mississippi State University is flying optionally piloted vehicles out of Starkville right now.
“They are the government sponsor for Stark’s program,” he said. “They already fly optionally piloted vehicles, which means there’s a pilot in it but the aircraft is being controlled from the ground. The pilot is just there to take over if something goes wrong.”