Grant provides for improvements at county airport

By Crystal Burns

A two-phase grant is providing for significant improvements at the Gibson County Airport, located on the Milan-Trenton Hwy. in the Moores Chapel community.

Art Hoppers, airport manager, gave a tour of the facility recently, showing how crews are repairing cracks in the runway and taxiways to extend the life of the asphalt. Pipes have also been added at several areas of the facility to improve the drainage. The airport was built on natural springs.

The Gibson County Commission budgets $10,000 per year for airport improvements. The grant, which totals about $700,000, only costs the county 5%. Federal funding covers 90%, and state funding 5%.

Hoppers said the Tennessee Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division helps regional airports create 20-year master plans. Each year, the state budgets money for improvement projects and prioritizes the projects based on the safety of the runway.

“If you don’t have a functioning runway, there’s no point in having an airport,” Hoppers said.

Hoppers said the asphalt is replaced every 20 years, so the crack seal project provides a needed facelift in between those jobs. After all the cracks are sealed, the runways and taxiways will be restriped. Hoppers said there is a group out of Memphis that will come in at some point and paint a compass rose on the runway for pilots to align their compasses to true north.

During the work, the runways and taxiways are shut down.

Hoppers said his focus throughout the year is the constant maintenance required to remove obstructions, mostly trees, to keep the pilots that use the airport safe.

Hoppers succeeded Robert Lockard as airport manager when Lockard retired at the end of last year. Hoppers grew up in Trenton. He joined the Navy after graduating high school and worked in avionics, which encompasses the electronics systems used on aircraft, artificial satellites and spacecraft. Hoppers worked mainly on fighter jets.

He left active duty in 1995 and began working at Dyersburg Avionics. When it shut down in 2004, Hoppers joined Brad Simmons’ avionics company, just a few yards from his new office at the Gibson County Airport. He started working part-time at the airport to help cover the office on weekends two years ago.

Switching from maintenance to administration has been challenging, but Hoppers is enjoying his new job.

“It’s a constant learning experience,” he said.

He’s proud of the airport’s reputation among pilots.

“We always get compliments on how nice it looks,” he said. “People say it’s a well kept, nice, quiet airport.”

Gibson County Economic Developer Kingsley Brock said that’s important to the county’s industrial recruitment efforts.

“Many large companies have small aircraft for travel convenience,” he said. “I can think of two companies that have utilized the Gibson County Airport in the last two years. Having the airport allowed company officials to fly in to Gibson County to look at our sites and be back in the air within two hours. The airport is certainly a great asset to have.”

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