Thursday, January 09, 2014

Conway, Arkansas: Applicants narrowed for airport manager

CONWAY — Applicants for manager of the $30 million Conway airport under construction have been narrowed from 66 to 10, said Jack Bell, chief of staff for Mayor Tab Townsell.

“We’re hoping to get someone hired the latter part of January,” Bell said.

“We’re going to do some telephone interviews with these folks,” he said. Townsell likely will participate in the interviews, Bell said, because he does the hiring.

“This will be a department head, so it will be his call,” Bell said. “It’s his responsibility to hire department heads.”

A subcommittee of the seven-member Conway Airport Advisory Committee has reviewed the applications and made the decisions to date.

The subcommittee members are Bill Hegeman, chairman; Bill Atkinson; and Harrell Clendenin.

The list of candidates was narrowed to 17, then 10, said Lisa Mabry-Williams, the city’s human-resources director.

The final 10 applicants are as follows:

• Michelle Anthony of Portia (Lawrence County), manager of the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport;

• Sylvian “Sam” Carver of Gulfport, Miss., who was airport director of the Slidell, La., municipal airport from 2007-2011;

• Erick D’Leon of Byron, Ga., operations manager of TBI Airport Management Inc., Middle Georgia Regional and Macon Downtown airports;

• Walter Gray of Great Mills, Md., self-employed in personal property and financial management;

• Michael McDougall of Lake Charles, La., airport director of Southland Executive Airport;

• Wesley Nokes of Smithville, Tenn., airport manager of Smithville Municipal Airport;

• Jim Primm of Roswell, N.M., director of operations of Great Southwest Aviation.;

• Robert F. Snuck of Mount Juliet, Tenn., manager at the McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport Tower from 2009-2013;

• Joseph D. Wheeler of Cut Off, La., airport manager of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission; and

• Joshua Zylks of El Dorado, airport manager for the South Arkansas Regional Airport.

The only other Arkansas applicant in the top 17 was Greg Willey of Vilonia, who retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2013.

Bill Cope has been the fixed-base operator at Conway’s airport, Dennis F. Cantrell Field, which is in a residential area.

The new airport in the Lollie Bottoms area near the Arkansas River is scheduled to open in August. The current airport property — 151 acres that fronts Interstate 40 — has been purchased for $6.1 million by the Conway Development Corp. and Wilson & Associates of Montgomery, Ala., for a mixed-use development.

“We won’t have an FBO at the new airport,” Bell said. “It’ll be city-run and -managed.

“I think the FAA kind of suggests that,” Bell said, and it will give the city “a little more hands-on control.”

Bell said the manager needs to be personable as well as knowledgeable.

“Definitely somebody that has had airport-management experience,” Bell said, adding that the final 10 candidates have that.

“Also, this person needs to be — maybe a chamber-of-commerce-type person is the right term — just real friendly, welcoming,” he said.

“We want people that are flying across the country to want to come to Conway for fuel.”

He said the staff needs to be “very welcoming and make people want to come back.”

In addition to a person who understands airports, Bell said, he believes the manager needs to be “somebody that believes in service and wants to sell Conway. [The airport is] going to be the front door of Conway for a lot of people.”

The manager “also needs to be able to communicate with the FAA and the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics,” which provide annual grants to airports, Bell said. “They need to be able to manage those grants, be able to speak their language.”

The airport manager will be paid with revenue from the airport when it is up and running, but initially, the salary will come from funds borrowed to build hangars and the terminal.

“We’re borrowing money — a five-year line of credit is what it amounts to,” he said. “We’re not going to get all the money for the old airport upfront.”

Bell said the airport will receive “a pretty good influx” of money when it opens because of hangar fees.

“Seven people are building their own corporate hangars,” he said, “so they will lease property from the city.

“We’ve had a great interest in that. If we need more, we’ll build more.

“We’ll have to wait till we get grants down the road,” which would be in 2015 or 2016, he said.

Also, Bell said, the city will build six hangars that will provide space for 36 planes.

“People who have airplanes at Dennis Cantrell will have first dibs on those,” he said.

“I think that’s about 25; as of today, we have 22 already rented,” Bell said Friday.

If any are left, “we will open it up to surrounding counties,” he said.

There will also be 12 unenclosed “sunshade” hangars, he said.

Other members of the Conway Airport Advisory Committee are Brad Teague, Steve Magie, Fletcher Smith and Kevin Wish.

All members except Hegeman are pilots, Bell said.


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