Airport director search set for early ’09

Published 9:06 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

There are no immediate plans to hire a new director at the South Alabama Regional Airport, and it could sometime in early 2009 before application notices are sent out, said Larry Presley, airport authority chairman.

The post has been vacant since Bill Benton’s retirement in August. Benton had served more than 20 years at the airport before his retirement. Misty Jones, the airport’s special projects manager, was named as interim director shortly after Benton’s announcement.

“We have a lot of ongoing projects that we want to get wrapped up (before beginning the application process,” Presley said. “Misty Jones and Jed Blackwell, who is serving as airport administrator, are doing a great job.”

Wesley Laird, the airport authority’s vice chair, said the group is in “no hurry” to begin the process.

“We’ve have some very talented and young leadership on board,” Laird said. “So, we’re in no hurry to start the process of hiring a permanent director.”

Once started, the process could take several months to complete, he said.

“We’re going to be going through a large transition period, and it’s really too early to know what that process might be — if we take applications or decide to go another route,” he said. “There’s a lot of activity going on out there (at the airport).”

The “activity” many can see is the fruition of a more than $4 million runway extension.

Originally announced in May, the $444,962 appropriation for the extension of the runway at the South Alabama Regional Airport at Bill Benton Field was increased in June to $4,047,500.

Jones said the airport’s runway currently is 5,000 feet, but is being extended to 6,000 feet. The extension, which should be completed in 18 to 24 months, will allow the airport to accommodate larger aircraft, such as C130s, and even 737s.

The extension is part of a larger project to improve the runway. The first major test of those projects came last fall when an Air Force C130 landed here.

The improvements began when EJM Aerospace announced in April 2005 its plans to locate a maintenance facility at the airport. At the time, the airport could only handle aircraft that weighed 60,000 pounds or less. With the runway’s upgrades and extension, the airport can now handle aircraft weighing up to 155,000 pounds.