The Conway City Council met in a special session today to approve the new airport’s budget for the remainder of the year and create two new city positions for airport employees.
These items had been on Tuesday night’s agenda, but with three council members absent the council didn’t have enough votes to bring any ordinances up for action that night.
The airport’s budget for 2014 shows a projected $345,810 in revenue, mostly generated by aviation fuel sales and hangar rental, and $358,471 in expenses — with the airport’s fuel bill adding more than $230,000 in expenses.
Airport Manager Josh Zylks said today that the shortfall projected for 2014 represents the cost of keeping both airports open for about two months and "just normal startup costs" that range from buying new groundskeeping equipment to cleaning supplies. It is hoped that the airport will be operating in the black in 2015. Any shortfalls will have to be made up out of the city’s general fund, which is stretched thin due to the "flat" retail sales tax income over the past few years.
Earlier this summer it had been planned that the existing Dennis F. Cantrell Field just east of downtown Conway would stay open for about a month after the new Cantrell Field in the Lollie Bottoms opened. This would have given time for the aircraft at the existing airport to be ferried to the new one or to wherever they’re going.
However, the amount of time it would take got get the new airport’s fuel system installed was underestimated, Zylks said. While aircraft will be able to land and park at the new airport as of Monday, it might be November before a pilot can refuel one there. Until the fuel system is installed, both airports will stay open.
Zylks said that since safety concerns at the existing airport — which over the decades became engulfed by neighborhoods and busy stores — were part of the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to fund the new airport, the FAA wants the airstrip in the farmland west of town open as soon as possible. In recent years three people, including a woman in what used to be a house at the end of the existing airport’s main runway, have been killed in accidents that probably would not have happened at the new airport.
The two employees are currently working at the existing airport for Conway Aviation Services, a private company that runs the airport under contract with the city. The new airport will be city-managed and operate like a new city department, but these employees’ transition should be seamless, Zylks said.
The airport will be open for traffic at first light on Monday. The grand opening will be on Sept. 5.