Three members of the Airport Advisory Committee gathered Wednesday at City Hall to discuss the progress of the new Conway Airport.
They were Bill Hegeman, committee chairman; Bill Adkisson, chairman of the board of Conway Development Corp., and City Engineer Ronnie Hall.
Joining the question and answer session was Jack Bell, Assistant to the Mayor.
As a bonus, U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor came to town on Thursday to talk about his involvement and get thanks for acquiring the initial $5.8 million in federal funds to get the project going.
While here, Pryor was asked to help with a new project, a $3.4 million Instrument Landing System (ILS).
Pryor told the committee he would “do all that I can do” to find funding for the system that would allow pilots to land in darkness and all weather.
It was explained that without ILS, some pilots would need to re-route to Little Rock or Searcy in certain conditions.
The advisory committee is relatively new, and this is what they recommended to the City Council when they were appointed.
Chairman Bill Hegeman: “The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the City take over the management of the new airport when it becomes operational by hiring a good manager who would report to the council.
“It was the feeling of the committee that this would give us
• the greatest control of all the factors relative to the operation of a new facility,
• provide the highest revenue stream,
• better control of investments in the new facility and
• better project the positive image that is desired in a general aviation airport.”
Other members of the advisory committee are Brad Teague, Steve Magie, Fletcher Smith, Harrell Clendenin, and Kevin Wish.
Hegeman said he is the only non-pilot on the committee.
Log Cabin Democrat: How long has a new airport been considered?
Bill Adkisson: There has been strong interest by the Conway Development Corp. since the early 1990s, and before that, the 1970s, when Conway was looking for a more suitable location. Ground was broken on April 22, 2011.
Ronnie Hall: The site in Lollie Bottoms was approved in 2000, followed by an extensive environmental study lasting almost four years and costing the city $250,000. It was eventually decided that waterfowl would not be the hazard once feared.
LCD: As Cantrell Field has been surrounded by a growing city, have steps been taken to avoid this fate with the new airport?
Hall: The city adopted FAA ordinances that prevent the airport from being hemmed in. An overlay district also includes height and size restrictions of nearby structures.
LCD: How long is the runway?
Hall: The runway is concrete, 11 inches deep, 70 feet wide, 7,000 feet long with 1,000 feet unpaved at either end with no obstructions. The depth of the concrete was increased from 9 1/2 inches to 11 inches at a cost of $250,000 to handle heavier business jets. Garver Engineering of Little Rock is assisting the city with design.
LCD: What’s the largest plane that will be able to land safely at the new airport?
Hall: A Gulfstream 5 is the largest business jet expected.
LCD: What cities were studied and flown by to determine best practices for Conway?
Adkisson: I’ve been able to fly around a bit to compare several sites, such as West Memphis, Rogers, Hot Springs, Monticello, Tunica and others. I’m impressed with some of their operations, and we took away some ideas for our project. One thing the committee learned was that the terminal need not be as large as they first thought. The airport will be important as an economic development tool, and the terminal will be the first place flying-in visitors to Conway will see.
Jack Bell: Preliminary plans for the terminal were drawn by out-of-town architects, but planning has been taken over by Conway architect Rik Sowell.
LCD: How do the pilots using the Conway airport now feel about the new airport?
Adkisson: The pilots love it. They’ve been involved in several surveys and have given a lot of input.
LCD: What is the name of the new airport?
Bell: Dennis F. Cantrell Field, named for the man who established the Conway Municipal Airport in 1939 and remained involved in the airport for more than 50 years.
LCD: When will the airport be completed?
Hall: Dedication is set for Aug. 14, 2014. Mark your calendars.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 505-1234. Staff writer Ricky Duke contributed to this story.)