Conway Hopes To Lure Business to New Airport at Cantrell Field

Nearly six months after the opening of the new Conway municipal airport, the facility is already buzzing with activity.

The planners behind the project have also set their sights on the next steps to grow its role in the state and attract business.

While official numbers are not yet available for the new airport — dubbed Cantrell Field — people involved with the old and new facilities say that operations are on pace to surpass what was seen at the old airport.

“I would say just on an eyeball basis we’ve been a lot busier here at the new airport than we were at the old airport,” airport Manager Josh Zylks said.

The new airport is also seen as a major upgrade in terms of safety and navigation, and demand for hangar space at the new site is spurring new construction there.

In the six months since its opening, the city has closed the old airport and is moving forward with development plans there that are boosted by a successful bond election.

Zylks is quick to point out how different the new airport — located off of Sand Gap Road in an area called the Lollie Bottoms — is from its predecessor, which was in the heart of the city just off of Interstate 40 and built in the late 1930s. The new site boasts about 430 acres inside the airport fence and a weight capacity of more than four times that of the old airport.

With the new airport’s all-LED airfield, outfitted in hues of white, blue and amber, the facility also expects to save on maintenance and utility costs over time.

But after two fatal accidents at the old airport in five years, one of the most important features is simply having more room to get in and out of the airfield. Zylks said that while there was essentially no buffer area on either side of the runway at the old airport, the new one has more than enough.

“If someone did have a problem, it would be unfortunate, but if they were to have an aircraft leave the runway, there’s much, much more wide open space, and it really improves safety and increases the survivability of having what we would term a runway excursion,” Zylks said.

Lynn Lunsford, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said the facility is set up to provide plenty of room for safe operation.

“It’s designed to the latest standards and put in a location that should give it many years of service,” Lunsford said.

Looking Forward

Jamie Gates, senior vice president of the Conway Development Corp., said customers at the old airport are moving their business to Cantrell Field. Among those with hangar space at the new airport are Conway’s Reliance Health Care and Home BancShares Inc.

Construction on a city-owned hangar is expected to wrap up sometime in May, and the building pads for private hangar space are expected to fill up. Gates said the airport has been doing about three times as much business in jet fuel sales as general aviation.

“We are running a lot of business jet traffic through this airport,” Gates said.

In addition to the $30 million construction project to build the new airport, which received $23 million in federal funding, there are two million-dollar projects in the pipeline to expand its offerings.

The first is an apron expansion, estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, which would accommodate 36 new T-hangar stalls.

The other project would be aimed at extending the runway to just over 6,000 feet, Gates said. That project is estimated to cost $1.5 million. Both projects would receive 90 percent funding from the federal government.

In addition to the available space within the airport’s fence, Conway Development Corp. also owns two parcels of land adjacent to the airport, which it hopes to use to lure businesses.

Brad Lacy, the president and CEO of Conway Development Corp., said those parcels would provide prime access to the airport for an aerospace or aviation company.

“We’ve never really had an opportunity to compete for something like that because we never had the property available or the runway length to make it happen. We don’t really know what to expect, but we’re certainly planning as if that’s the way that will [happen],” Lacy said.

(Also see: Deer, Ducks Present Challenges at Conway's Cantrell Field)

Central Landing

In September, Conway voters approved a capital improvement bond package that included two infrastructure projects aimed at turning the old municipal airport into a shopping destination.

One is an Interstate 40 overpass connecting the Conway Commons shopping center with the new development, known as Central Landing. The other is a four-lane road that will stretch out to Oak Street from Central Landing.

The old airport closed at the end of January, and development is still in the planning and engineering phases.

Lacy said construction at the development site is expected to begin this summer, with a second round of construction next year. The first phase of stores is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016.

Lacy said Conway Development Corp.’s partner in the development, Jim Wilson & Associates of Montgomery, Alabama, is continuing to find businesses to lease spots in the development, but he declined to release any new names. Arkansas Business has previously reported that a 100,000-SF Dillard’s store will anchor the first phase of the development, known as the Shoppes at Central Landing.