The Saline County Regional Airport passed another milestone recently with the opening of a new terminal building.
Representatives from the state and county, as well as the cities of Benton and Bryant and their respective chambers of commerce, gathered Sept. 10 at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new 4,020-square-foot building at 1100 Hill Farm Road in Bryant.
“The Saline County Regional Airport may be one of the most important pieces of infrastructure that we have in Saline County,” said Jeff Arey, Saline County judge. “General aviation has greatly evolved over the last 25 years, becoming the physical Internet that connects communities across this country.
“Saline County has made great improvements over the last 10 years in this area with the new central location of the airport, a 5,002-foot runway, 24-hour fueling access and much needed hangar space,” he said. “When visitors and guests — both business and pleasure — fly in to visit Saline County, it’s important that they have a modern, stylish and comfortable terminal to welcome them.”
“Zero tax dollars were used to build this facility,” said Dane Pruitt, airport manager. He added that the total cost was $912,000. “It was all done with grants from the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics and government-improvement funds through our state representatives.
“It is 100 percent self-sufficient. We operate on funds received from hangar rentals and fuel sales.”
Pruitt said the general-aviation airport opened in March 12, 2007, and serves corporate and private planes.
“It was never meant to serve commercial airlines,” he said, noting that the airport has 79 “based aircraft” — aircraft that use the local facility as a home base — with a waiting list of 30 more people seeking hangar space.
Pruitt said the terminal building was built “with the pilots’ needs in mind.”
Moser Construction Co. of Bryant built the terminal building, which was designed by Roark Perkins Perry and Yelvington Architects of Little Rock.
The building has a large lobby, a pilots lounge, a flight-crew rest area and a flight planning area with an automated weather observing system (AWOS-II) and a universal communications system.
The facility also has a large conference room that can accommodate up to 20 people, a small conference room with a table and six chairs, and a break room.
“Instead of clients having to go into towns for meetings, they can have them right here,” Pruitt said.
He said pilots and their clients also have the use of a new courtesy car provided by Everett Buick GMC of Benton.
“They love that,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt came on board as the airport manager in October 2014.
“I’m very new,” he said with a laugh.
“My dad was a pilot, and my uncle was a cropduster [pilot] in eastern Arkansas. They had me out there flagging planes when I was 11. I put myself through college working for cropdusters,” Pruitt said.
“When I graduated from college, I didn’t want to see another airport again,” he said, adding, however, that he continued to have a pilot’s license.
Pruitt, who lives in Shannon Hills, grew up in Osceola and graduated from Osceola High School in 1986. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville with a degree in political science.
He worked in sales and management for 20 years in Little Rock. He also worked at Central Flying Service in Little Rock prior to accepting the job in Saline County.
“I’m very fortunate to have this job,” he said. “As the old saying goes, ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.’”
Pruitt said the airport currently has 36 T-hangars, 10 private hangars and three large corporate hangars.
“We do not charge ramp fees or landing fees, and we allow overnight stays for transient aircraft free of charge,” he said.
Pruitt said the Saline County Regional Airport Commission has applied for additional grants “to expand our ramp areas, allowing space for two more 12-bay T-hangars and five land-lease lots for construction of large corporate hangars with space allowing for even more expansion.”
Pruitt said he believes the airport will continue to grow.
“We are close to the new Outlets of Little Rock shopping mall and Bass Pro Shops, and just eight miles from west Little Rock,” he said. “We’re convenient to businesses, shopping, hotels and restaurants in Bryant, Benton and Little Rock, and offer hometown service and congeniality.”
He said a long-term goal of the Saline County Airport Commission, working with the Saline County Economic Development Corp., is to develop the east side of the airport property.
“We are primarily an industrial site,” he said. “I would see that development as some sort of industrial-usage facility related to the aeronautical industry, such as a maintenance and repair facility or some sort of factory.”