This piece was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of Our Jackson Home: The Magazine.
I had forgotten how exhilarating it is to fly up in the sky. The takeoff, the landing, and the whole experience seems to take your breath away. Maybe that’s because I don’t travel by air as often as I would like. I still think it’s crazy that Katie Howerton and I managed to take time out of our schedules to enjoy a day trip to St. Louis—flown directly out of Jackson.
Encouraging a getaway trip to St. Louis might not come across as a typical Our Jackson Home topic. At least that’s what I thought at first. But when I discovered the traveling opportunities like this that McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport has to offer, I said, “Really? You can do that? Here in Jackson? I have to learn more about this!”
I was honored with the opportunity to speak with McKellar-Sipes’ very own Deputy Director, Cindy Melton, about what the local airport has to offer Jackson and the surrounding community. Cindy started as an Executive Assistant at the airport back in 2003 and has worked to make the airport the valuable asset to the community that it is today by running the financial side of the airport operations.
Cindy was eager to share with me some of the fascinating history behind the airport. “We’ve got a lot of history here,” she said. “I’m proud of the history here. The airport started as a World War II airport. After the war was over, the property was given over to Madison County and then became McKellar Field.”
In 2010, the Fixed Base Operation (FBO) was purchased from a company called U.S. Aviation Services. “Everything was not exactly what we wanted it to be at the time. We wanted lower fuel prices and better customer service. We came in knowing what we wanted to do, and we have ultimately reached that,” Cindy explained. “It has proven to be a very good investment for the airport authority. We have more than exceeded what we thought it would be at this point. We can say we are almost self-sufficient now.” The airport receives capital funding from the city and county which still helps with some of its operations. The airport authority is owned by the city of Jackson and Madison County and is run by a five-member board appointed by the city and county.
Cindy explained that the air service offered is a huge part of the economic development for Madison County. It is one of the major things businesses look into before locating here. McKellar-Sipes offers the only tower between Memphis and Nashville and is a certified Part 139 airport, meaning that there are firefighting services on the field. “These are some of the prerequisites that businesses like to see when they come in to a community,” she said.
The airport participates in the Department of Transportation’s Essential Air Service Program, which subsidizes airlines in communities that cannot afford a commercial airline. McKellar-Sipes has partnered with the airline Air Choice One, which Cindy says has been great to work with from the beginning. “They have done absolutely everything they said they would do upfront. They’ve advertised, they’ve been a part of the community, they’ve joined the Chamber, and they are always involved in events around town.” Thanks to them, Jackson has a partnership with the St. Louis airport that has poured marketing dollars into Jackson, and Cindy also works with their marketing side. “They have been helpful to the airport itself, not just the airline.”
McKellar-Sipes encourages those in Jackson to visit St. Louis via Air Choice One. A round-trip flight costs only $127 no matter what day or time you leave or return. Plus, Visitors Bureau booklets and other information is easily accessible at the airport so that anyone can plan the perfect trip.
“I recommend to people before they make that trip to St. Louis to come in and get one of these visitor guides and see what all they have there. Plan your day before you get there.” Cindy visited St. Louis for two days in March for her daughter’s spring break. “We went to the zoo, the City Museum, walked around downtown to see the Arch, and walked around Ballpark Village. That doesn’t even touch what all you can do there. You can go on a regular basis, and every time you go, you can do something different.”
“St. Louis is also promoting travel to Jackson,” Cindy continued. “That’s why they have been a wonderful partner with us. They don’t only want us to come there. They want people to come here.” McKellar-Sipes has been working with Jackson Tourism to help promote that opportunity. “There are a lot of things in Jackson that are great and that aren’t in a lot of other places. Tourism has become a huge part in Jackson right now.”
Katie and I thoroughly enjoyed our own recent little day trip on Air Choice One. After an hour-long flight, we got to see a little of the city, but once we headed back to Jackson, we both knew it wouldn’t be our last time flying out of McKellar-Sipes. The idea of flying out of Jackson simply to travel to the seemingly nearby St. Louis might have some of you readers a little skeptical. You might be thinking, “Why would I bother flying when I can easily drive there?” Well, my response to you might be, “Why not?”
To learn more about the McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport and their services offered through Air Choice One, visit their website or call 731.423.0995.