Mississippi Airports Association Conference provides opportunity to review security measures after Tupelo plane theft

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – The Mississippi Airports Association held the first full day of its annual conference in Starkville Thursday.

It comes less than a week after the stolen plane incident in Tupelo.

“Everybody’s airport is different,” says Tom Heanue, president of the MAA. “The things that may work in Hattiesburg may not work in Jackson, and things that work in Jackson may not work in Tupelo.”

The conference is a place where airport directors, government representatives and others in the aviation businesses from across the state can come together and collaborate.

“We have the FAA representative here and the state representatives and they talked about different funds and funding,” Heanue says. “Ways airports can improve their capital improvement projects.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is also in the midst of its investigation into 29-year-old Cory Patterson reportedly stealing a plane and threatening to crash into a Tupelo Walmart.

Heanue says that sharing ideas on updating airport security is one of the elements of the conference.

“You do want to be prepared and you do want to be as secure as you can be, but there’s a point where you’re dealing with the private business people,” he says. “You kind of have access to their planes and commerce and Mississippi commerce and there’s a point where you don’t want to restrict that.”

It also provides an opportunity for airports to explore different funding options for security or other changes.

“There are some other funding sources for general aviation airports to help them with their increase in security and they get that through state funding,” Heanue. “They can also get that now through a lot of the rescue funds that are coming down.”

One of Thursday’s speakers was Col. Justin Grieve, Wing Commander at Columbus Air Force Base. One of his talking points was the importance of local airports being able to coordinate with the Air Force for both training and emergencies.

“The relationship and the community mindset is extremely important on the worst day,” Col. Grieve says. “Where we have an aircraft incident or aircraft accident. We want to know that we can rely upon our team and the local community teams to support our airmen, our aviators, and anything our aircraft might need.”

Friday’s schedule of events features reports from both the FAA and Transportation Security Administration.

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