March 17--By Arkansas Department of Aeronautics Director John Knight's count, there are 91 public airports in Arkansas. While some, like the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport in Little Rock and Fort Smith Regional Airport, boast commercial passenger service and multi-million-dollar facilities offering the latest and best in aviation technology, more of them are only a few steps beyond a strip of asphalt on a level piece of ground at the edge of town.
Knight knows them all.
"To the community they are in, the small airports are just as important as the big airports are to their big community," Knight said.
Knight said larger passenger and noncommercial airports have access to more federal funding than smaller airports do. "We try to take care of the little airports," he said. "Each airport has their agenda, and we work with them and with the FAA to make sure federal money that comes to the state gets put in the right places."
Funding comes in the form of matching grants, with the Federal Aviation Administration contributing 90 percent of the grant funds and the ADA picking up the remaining 10 percent. Knight said that there is a $300,000 cap on the grants, and few projects at smaller airports exceed that amount.
State funds are generated by taxes levied on aviation products, Knight said. Last year, about $12 million in tax revenue went to the grant program.
"We mainly use the money to make sure the airports are safe and that they are in a situation where they can attract industry and keep what industry they've got," he said.
Among the area's rural airports are the following:
Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, a city-owned, general aviation airport in Polk County, continues to move forward in what newly installed airport manager Will Robbins calls a "state of slow recovery" from the economic downturn of 2008.
"We saw a slowdown, but fortunately only lost two of about 18 businesses on the airfield," Robbins said.
He said an assortment of private aviation-related enterprises -- interior finishers, avionics businesses, mechanics, charter services and general maintenance facilities -- has set up shop on the airport's 1,079-acre site.
The Arkansas Department of Aeronautics website, www.flyarkansas.gov, reports employment of 824 at the airport, with an annual payroll of $14.3 million and a total economic impact on the community of about $14.5 million.
A recent major expansion project was undertaken a year ago when Hampton Aviation, a large aeronautics service company based at the airport, agreed to lease a 225-by-100-foot hangar to expand its business. An aircraft paint operation also opened.
Hampton provides scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, repairs and services to the general aviation industry.
Robbins, who has been at the airport since 1987 and recently replaced Rick Lanman, who has taken an airport job in Maine, said much of the work performed at the airport is on aircraft flown in from locations throughout the U.S. and beyond.
"Our businesses offer them more competition with prices, and we do good work," he said.
The airport also upgraded its fire suppression capabilities -- building a water tank and extending water lines -- to the level required by the federal government for facilities performing maintenance and repair. The work was a likely factor in landing a recent contract for maintenance of military aircraft along the line of turboprop C12s, used for light cargo and passenger service. The deal "shows a lot of promise," Robbins said.
Another partner in Mena airport growth is Rich Mountain Community College, which offers a program in aviation maintenance. The RMCC program can provide the training necessary for workers to achieve certification that will leave them eligible for the jobs in a market that currently has a shortage of licensed aircraft technicians.
Work will include adding 12 hangars for small aircraft, which will be the first hangars built at the airport in 25 years.
The event also marked a milestone for the Worcester Regional Airport, restoring it to "primary airport" status and making it eligible for $1 million a year in grant funds from the Federal Aviation...
The grant will fund the widening of Taxiway U, which will allow it to better serve the larger aircraft that now use the airport; construction is expected to begin in October 2012 and take six months...
FAA requires this, other changes be completed by 2015