The Federal Aviation Administration and the Arkansas Division of Aeronautics are conducting a study as to whether a regional airport needs to be built somewhere in a 19-county area in Northeast Arkansas.
Surveys are being distributed and information is being collected, Garver senior project manager and aviation leader Blake Roberson told Talk Business & Politics.
“We are analyzing the need for commercial air service in Northeast Arkansas,” he said.
The area under consideration stretches from the Missouri/Arkansas border to the north and the Mississippi River to the east. Stone County is the furthest western point, while St. Francis County is the most southern.
Residents who wish to fly in the region currently have to drive to Little Rock or Memphis which can add hours to trips.
The East Arkansas Planning & Development District is conducting the survey of residents in the target region. Surveys will be collected through May 5, EAPDD Director of Economic and Community Development Jeff Morris told Talk Business & Politics. About 3,500 surveys have already been collected but more are needed, he said.
Once all the surveys are collected, they will be processed and the information will be generated into a report, Garver senior aviation planner John Rostas said. The report will detail the needs for an airport in the area and how feasible it would be to build one.
Socio-economic factors, key industry needs, an analysis of general air service demand and other factors will be studied during this initial phase. The region is slated for stagnant population and wage growth through 2043, according to some research that has already been done.
“The metrics only tell part of the story. They don’t tell the whole story,” Rostas said.
The metrics generated would be shared with the airlines to determine interest in providing service to the region. Airlines don’t share internal data so there’s no way to know what they are looking for. The report will be provided to them and then they can decide if it is worth it, he said.
“Does this work for the airlines? That’s a question they would have to answer,” Rostas said.
How much a regional airport would cost to build and where it would be located would be determined in later phases, Rostas said. It could cost anywhere from $250 million to $500 million. It could take five or as many as 10 years to complete a project of this magnitude, he added.
Projects like this are rare, he said. The last regional airport built with funds from the FAA was built in North Dakota more than a decade ago.
The goal is to have the report completed by the end of the summer, Roberson said. It will cost nearly $400,000 to generate the report and that is being paid for with FAA and Arkansas Department of Aeronautic funds, he added.
“We hope to measure the underlying demand,” he said. “We need to figure out the needs of the people and industries in the region.”