You can’t see the runway of the new airport in the Lollie Bottoms from the ground unless you’re almost on top of it, but with the new airport terminal building built you can see the airport in the farmland from about three miles away.
The plan has been to open the new airport on Aug. 14, but that might be pushed back some because of rain delays in construction, newly hired airport manager Josh Zylks said on Wednesday.
The new airport will be called Cantrell Field, in contrast to the existing airport, which is officially called Dennis F. Cantrell Field. When the new one opens, the old one will stay open for 30 days, during which most aircraft there will make the short trip to their new hangars.
This week workers will keep working on the interior of the terminal building. Zylks said that from what he’s seen travelers and local pilots will be impressed with the fit and finish.
Impressing people is part of the business of an airport like Conway’s Zylks said. For pilots travelling cross-country, it’s like a truck stop "to a certain extent," he said, because those travelers will buy fuel and food at the airport or in Conway. "But a lot of [traffic] will be businesses coming in to check on their operations or people thinking about locating their businesses in Conway, and this is going to be their first impression," he said.
The fueling equipment still has to be put in, and the enclosed hangars for small private planes need to be built. The plan is to start moving planes from the old airport to the new one as these are built. By the end of the 30 days that both airports are operating, there should be a place for all of them, Zylks said.
None of the seven large "corporate" hangars that have been contracted for has started construction yet, so the larger jets and turboprops at the existing airport will have to be hangared somewhere else until these are built by their private owners.
There have been plans on the books for a new airport since the 90s, but it’s a long process. The need for a new airport was highlighted in June, 2007 with the death of a pilot and a woman at a house that used to be at the west end of the main runway. The pilot landed either too fast or to long — or both — just after a rainshower, and wasn’t able to stop or get his Cessna Citation 500 twin-jet back in the air. It went through the airport fence and into the house. The single passenger somehow escaped with minor injuries.
Zylks and other city officials have said that this tragedy convinced FAA officials that a new airport in Conway needed to be given more priority.
The existing airport is "built in," with neighborhoods and schools at the west end of its runway and neighborhoods and a large shopping center at the other. Pilots who lose power on takeoff have the options of trying to find a place to crash that hopefully won’t kill anybody or try and turn back and crash or land on airport property. A Mississippi man was killed when his Cessna 210 lost power after takeoff in November, 2012. He made the decision to turn back, which pilots are instructed will usually result in a crash. His Cessna crashed on airport property and no one on the ground was hurt.
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.
The city has contracted with a developer to build a large-scale shopping center to be called Central Landing at the old airport property.