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Vaiden Airport ready to take off

MARION — Vaiden Field has new life.

After a meeting July 1, the Perry County airport is prepared to take bids on a new taxiway and T-hangars today at 2 p.m.

T-hangars are structures used primarily for private aircrafts at general aviation airports.

The hangars are typically made of metal and are used because they are more economical than rectangular hangers.

“There is about 750 feet of taxiway and pad building for the T-hangars in one contract,” said John Martin, director of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce. “The other contract is for the building of the T-hangars.”

Martin said the Perry County Airport Authority and Perry County Chamber of Commerce received interest from about seven bidders during last week.

Alabama Development Office Director Neal Wade suggested the improvements, according to Martin.

“He said that for us, Perry County, to develop economically we had to have a viable airport,” said Martin. “At that time, the chamber partnered with the airport authority to create a viable airport. We have now been working on that for about four years.”

Bill Hansen, a consultant to the airport authority, said he expects the improvements at Vaiden to bring in business.

“What we are looking at, in 10 years, is to be a very credible regional airport for the Black Belt,” said Hansen. “Most airports are encumbered by encroachment. They are too close to the town, or they have commercial or residential activities around them. We don’t have that problem at Vaiden because it is protected by the huge footprint it has from being an Air Force base.”

Vaiden was used as an auxiliary practice airstrip for pilots operating T-33 jet trainers from Craig Air Force Base in Selma. When the Air Force closed the auxiliary field in 1977 the airstrip and land were transferred to the Perry County Airport Authority.

Hansen said one of the first commercial usages for the airport would come from Marion Military Institute.

“Most of the (MMI) students are in service academy preparation, or they are in an early commissioning program for the Army,” said Hansen. “All four services have pretty extensive aviation components. That means about half of those who want to get commissions in the service want to fly.”

Hansen said the airport and MMI partnered last year and created a flight school to allow cadets to get private pilots licenses.

“Last year the limiting factor was fuel,” said Hansen. “Since the flight school will be our first commercial venture, the first thing we had to do was add fuel and hangers to hold the planes.”

Hansen said the flight school could more than triple air operations at the airport.

“Each time a plane takes off, lands, or flies through the area is one operation,” said Hansen. “The FAA will justify grant money based off of your operating rate. Right now our rate is 5,000 to 10,000 flight operations. This will triple that, or quadruple it.”