Airport at Fayetteville Focusing on Upgrades
March 23, 2016
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  • The leaders of the city’s municipal airport plan to improve and expand its buildings and runways in the next few years, and its director said he sees potential for more flights.

    Johnny Roscoe, Drake Field’s director, in recent weeks told members of the Fayetteville Airport Board and city officials about projects to rehabilitate all the roofs and convert the field’s lights to energy-saving LEDs. The projects should begin or continue this year, he said. A project to widen the taxiways that connect loading areas to the runway could happen in the next few years.

    The Arkansas Air and Military Museum at the airfield also plans a fundraising campaign to expand and renew its World War II-era home.

    The city-owned, largely self-sustaining airport sprawls over a few hundred acres at Fayetteville’s southernmost end and provides service for private and chartered flights. Last month Roscoe said those flights could expand, but demand is too low to expect anything like the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.

    “We get this every once in a while: ‘Hey, can I go down there and catch my American flight or Delta flight?’ Maybe someday, but probably not for a long time,” Roscoe told City Council members during an agenda session. More likely are smaller commuter or on-demand flights, he said, adding, “I think those will come and thrive.”

    More flights would be a welcome change at the airfield, where fuel sales and flights have slowed in the past decade, according to information presented to the board Thursday. Last year the airfield handled about 22,000 flight operations, down more than one-third from 2014 with the closure of the SkyVenture Aviation flight school. But Southern Eagle Aviation has come in with a smaller flight school, and fuel sales have held steady at about 350,000 gallons annually in the past few years.

    About two-thirds of the airport’s $2 million in yearly revenue comes from those fuel sales, with hangar and terminal rentals and state and federal grants making up most of the rest.

    The air museum could use some work, too, treasurer Ray Boudreaux said Friday. The museum’s main building is a Quonset hut that’s been around since 1943, when the military trained civilian pilots there for the war effort, Boudreaux said. Its ceiling is the original wood used because metal was scarce.

    “It needs some TLC,” Boudreaux said, adding that the museum also has hopes to connect its three buildings, which showcase a century’s worth of civilian and military aircraft. A fundraising drive could come this summer.

    “What we’ll do is raise what we can and do what we can,” Boudreaux said.

    About 15,000 people go each year to the museum, which Boudreaux called a “jewel” of local and aviation history.

    Roscoe said the roof project at the airport is his highest priority. The buildings have reached the point in their lifespans to need the work, plus there’s some recent storm damage, he said. The airport is going back and forth with its insurer on the cost.

    Last year the terminal apron, or plane waiting area, was redone, as were LED lights in the ramp onto the runway. This year the runway’s lights will be largely switched out using $400,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration. The change should save thousands of dollars a year in energy, city sustainability director Peter Nierengarten said last month.