Monday, December 23, 2013

Conway, Arkansas: Corporate aviation taking off for new airport

All of the seven corporate hangars planned for the new Cantrell Field airport in the Lollie Bottoms are spoken for.

Jack Bell, Conway’s chief of staff, said the response from the business aviation community to the new hangar space expected to come on-line this summer when the airport opens should go a long way toward answering the question of whether moving the airport out of the city center would be bad for airport business.

Jamie Gates, senior vice president for the Conway Development Corp., said that having the largest, most expensive pieces of airport “real estate” spoken for “is definitely encouraging and proof that there’s pent-up demand here.”

“I fully expect, based on the response we’ve had, that we’ll open the airport with full occupancy, and that from there we’ll be looking at building more corporate hangars and more hangars and spaces for the smaller planes,” Gates said.

The airport tenants who have put deposits on new corporate hangars are:

• Brandon Adams, owner of Reliance Healthcare;

• Johnny Allison, Chairman of HomeBancShares;

• Bill Cope, corporate pilot President/CEO of Conway Aviation Services (fixed base operator at the current Cantrell Field);

• William “Skip” and Bryant Otto, grandchildren of Dennis F. Cantrell and corporate pilots;

• Todd Ross, CEO of Preferred Medical;

• Steve Stansel, corporate pilot for Morrilton-based Koontz Electric Co.;

• Keller Johnson, corporate pilot for Koontz Electric Co.

The corporate hangars at the new Cantrell Field will generally be about 100 x 100 feet, some larger, and, as the name implies, are typically leased by corporate airport tenants with larger, twin-engine aircraft that seat up to a dozen or so people with hangar space left over for a few smaller aircraft.

Corporate tenants will pay to build the hangars on airport property they lease for 30 cents per square foot per month. If they leave, the hangars become city airport property and can be leased to a new tenant.

Bell said that 17 private pilots have expressed interest in the 36 smaller enclosed hangars, and others are expected to move their aircraft into covered, but open aircraft parking at the new airport.

Also moving to the new airport will be aircraft used by the Sparrow Flying Club, an organization that exists in part to answer the common complaint that flying at Cantrell Field is available only to the local wealthiest few percent.

A $300 initiation fee and $39 per month buys a club membership, and a FAA Student Sport Pilot Certificate can be earned through the club. Airplanes are available to pilots on a per-hour basis, and club instructors or a qualified private pilot can do the flying for non-pilot members. Anyone can book a “discovery flight” with an instructor for less than $100.

“Our business is to make the airport available to the public-at-large,” David Jones, one of the club’s instructors, said.

The new airport is being built using 90 percent federal money. The remainder is split between state money and local money generated by the sale of the current airport property. By federal law, money from the sale of the current airport land must be invested into the new airport.

Gates said that the FAA accelerated the funding schedule for the new airport because of safety issues with the existing Cantrell Field. The field itself is not inherently unsafe, but the runway cannot be lengthened further because of Interstate 40 at one end and the railroad tracks and city growth at the other. It’s the growth of the city around the airport and increased air traffic over the years that’s created the safety issue.

Pilots who have engine trouble after taking off have almost no good options for an emergency landing and there have been two fatal crashes in which aircraft landing too long or too fast have gone off the west end the runway and hit houses, one in 1990 and one in 2007 in which home resident Janet Brady was killed when a corporate jet crashed into her home.

On Nov. 6, 2012, a Cessna 210 Turbo Centurion, one of Cessna’s heaviest and fastest single-engine aircraft, lost power after takeoff and its pilot, Robert Allen of Mississippi, chose to turn back to the field instead of attempting an emergency landing in what could almost only have been downtown or a neighborhood. He was killed when his Cessna stalled and crashed at the edge of the airport property. No one on the ground was hurt.

“We have the luxury of talking about the things a new airport can do for us economically,” Gates said, “but the necessity of public safety has always driven this project, and we should remember that some tragic events were the consequence of this undersized infrastructure.”

Gates said that U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and the rest of the federal delegation were “especially helpful in expediting the capital funding for the airport project.”

The existing airport is officially named Dennis F. Cantrell Field, though it’s most often referred to simply as Cantrell Field, which will be the official name of the new airport.


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