Allie Martin

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Video: UAM, Tupelo Officials At Impasse

TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI) – Recently, Universal Asset Management CEO Keri Wright hosted a group of civic leaders from the southeast. They were touring UAM’s operation at Tupelo Regional Airport.

Two and a half years ago, UAM became a tenant at the airport. Since then, 747s, and other smaller commercial aircrafts have made their final flights into Tupelo. The company buys retired airplanes, takes them apart and recycles everything.

“We remove all usable and marketable components to recertify and distribute to airlines around the world. We remove carpet, metal, plastics, anything we can recycle,” Wright said.

All parts and components are either sold to other airlines, or recycled for scrap.

UAM utilizes a portion of the airport that is not used by commercial air traffic. Once their planes land, they have to park them, and start taking everything apart. But earlier this year, portions of the old runway and taxiway, which haven’t been refurbished in 50 years, began cracking and tearing. That means UAM has trouble landing, and moving the large planes.

“In certain areas, we can’t move airplanes over taxiways and it’s a problem,” she said.

It’s a problem with a costly fix. Originally, the city council agreed to foot the bill for a $107,000 repair for a smaller portion of the taxiway. But the airport authority came back with a request for a major repair costing $1,200,000. Council members unanimously voted no.

Now, UAM and the city appear deadlocked. Some believe UAM should pay a portion of the repairs, but CEO Wright contends the airport originally agreed to make the needed repairs when the 20 year lease was signed.

Since coming to Tupelo, UAM has outperformed its projections for it’s operation. They came to Tupelo with 5 employees, now there are 85. But Wright points out UAM’s ability to grow is tied directly to its ability to land planes.

“Number of airplanes we can land is directly related to the number of jobs we can create,” Wright said.

UAM has not said what its next step is, but Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton believes both sides should come together and see what can be worked out.

“We just can’t allow taxpayers money to be subjected to line in the sand negotiations. I’m optimistic now that once this vote is behind us we can get back to the table and enter into good faith negotiations,” Mayor Shelton said.

For now, no future meetings between the city and UAM have been set.