An effort that has been ongoing off and on for several years is about to become a reality.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., Thursday made a joint announcement of a $14.94 million U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) grant award to the City of Olive Branch. The money will be used to assist the City of Olive Branch in the purchase of the Olive Branch Airport.
Olive Branch would become the primary operator of the airfield and will guarantee the continued operations of the facility as a public airport. No other city in DeSoto County has ownership of an airport in its city limits.
Olive Branch has one of the busiest airports in the state of Mississippi, a fact noted in Wicker's remarks about the grant award to the city.
“As one of the busiest general aviation airports in the state, the Olive Branch Airport is a prime example of how a strong local airport can help a community attract new businesses and grow the economy,” Wicker said. “With assistance from the Department of Transportation, the city can take ownership of this important asset and guarantee the long-term viability of Olive Branch as a hub of commerce and industry in the greater Memphis area.”
Hyde-Smith said the city can now use the airport to help effectively promote Olive Branch to more industry and business.
“Transferring ownership of the Olive Branch Airport to the city will increase its attractiveness as a general aviation and business air travel facility,” Hyde-Smith said. “The city will be able to market the facility as an economic development asset to draw industry and other business to North Mississippi,”
In his remarks, Olive Branch Mayor Scott Phillips thanked Wicker, Hyde-Smith and the federal officials who helped make the grant award happen.
“The City of Olive Branch appreciates Senator Wicker, Senator Hyde-Smith, and the Federal Aviation Administration and their efforts in securing this grant,” Phillips said. “The Olive Branch Airport is a vital part of the local economy and bringing it under City ownership will ensure its presence and growth for decades to come.”
The airport has been operating since 1973, has a 6,000-foot runway, an air traffic control tower, and other aviation services.
Ed Woods is the current general manager of the airport and has held that position since Aug. 2014. A Belz Enterprises entity operating under the name of Metro Aviation Services is the current airport owner.
The airport is among the most active general aviation airports in Mississippi and the Memphis metropolitan area. The airport serves as a reliever to Memphis International Airport for general aviation and commercial clients.
Takeoffs and landings from the flight schools that daily operate out of the airport help make it one of the busiest facilities around, busier than Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International or Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
However, sports and entertainment celebrities often use the airport for their private aircraft when visiting the Mid-South or performing at the BankPlus Amphitheater at Snowden Grove or FedExForum. A wall display located in the terminal shows signed photographs by those who have used the airport.
The city will now go ahead with plans to purchase the airport. Over the years, the city has looked into the possibility of taking the airport under city control but due to money restraints relieved with Thursday’s grant award that will now make it a reality.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.