The Searcy Municipal Airport was one of five Arkansas airports to recently receive Federal Aviation Administration grant money for upgrades and expansions, and airport manager Donny Love said the money — which will be between $300,000 and $350,000 — will be used to make sure things continue to improve at the airport.
Love took his first lessons at the Searcy Municipal Airport when he was 17 years old and then later got his Airframe and Powerplant certificate, which takes about two years to complete. Through his years of experience in the air and around aircraft, he knows rules and regulations surrounding the FAA and said the agency is above all concerned with safety. Many grants are given to ensure the safety of airfields around the country.
“Safety is No. 1,” he said, “public safety, safety of anyone at the airport. People coming to and leaving us is our utmost concern.”
Love said the grant money will go toward building a road for vehicular access to the airport’s new development area, repairing a crack on the runway and fixing some erosion problems. He said the amount of grant money could fluctuate if crews get out there to fix the crack and find the repairs will cost more than expected. At that point, Love said, he can reach out to the FAA and seek an amendment for the grant.
Robert Chatman with Miller-Newell Engineers said the Searcy Municipal Airport was awarded $314,638 in federal dollars in July. Miller-Newell Engineers is the project engineer and has worked with the airport since 1991.
“The access road will improve safety by providing direct vehicle access to private hangars and eliminate driving on active taxiways for access,” Chatman said in an email. “The drainage and crack repair are required to maintain the integrity of the pavements.”
Another grant is expected to come from the state, Love said, and the airport is working on an additional grant possibility.
FAA grants are awarded on a matching contingency in which the federal money pays 90 percent and the local sponsor takes care of 10 percent of the amount. The city of Searcy owns the airport, and the city has a new tax that has been set up to take care of costs such as matching grants for the airport.
“In that tax, there was some money set aside for what is called the Opportunity Fund for departments within the city that qualify for grants with matching obligations,” Love said. “We set aside part of that tax for those departments that have those kinds of grants available to them so we can take as much advantage of those grants as possible.”
Love said the airport serves an important function in the city, and according to the Arkansas Department of Aviation’s website, 117 aircraft were based at the Searcy Municipal Airport as of 2006, and that number is projected to grow to 171 aircraft by 2025.
“We need to be the best [general aviation] airport, do what we do right now and do that best,” he said. “There’s a lot of emergency services that come out of here — Angel Flights and people on their way for an organ donation or transplant.”
The airport also serves as a base for firefighters, and farmers and cattlemen utilize the airport for business.
“People don’t realize what businesses use this airport,” Love said. “This airport benefits the city, the county, the state and the nation. That’s the reason that the FAA’s involved, and that’s the reason the state’s involved.”