The possibility of a regional airport being built, or a current airport being expanded, in Northeast Arkansas brought people Thursday to the Newport Economic Development Center.
The meeting was the latest in a series to discuss the idea. Officials have said the idea is a multi-layered issue that involves studies, possible site selection and review.
According to a website on the issue, the Arkansas Division of Aeronautics is looking at the need for an expanded or new commercial service airport to serve the area.
The area for the possible new airport covers a 19-county region including Greene, Craighead, Randolph, Lawrence, Mississippi, Poinsett, Jackson, Izard, Clay, Sharp, Cross, Independence, Fulton, Woodruff, Stone, Crittenden, Cleburne, St. Francis and White counties.
Officials said site selection and development is not part of the current project but could be done in subsequent phases if the demand is there from residents and airlines.
Right now, officials are asking residents to fill out surveys online, with a May 12 deadline, to gather information on the idea.
As of Thursday, nearly 8,700 people had responded to the survey, which asks a series of questions about travel, how many times a year that people travel for personal or business trips and which area regional airport they currently use.
According to the survey so far, most said they travel one to three times a year for business or personal trips with about 40 percent saying they travel for recreation while another 32 percent saying they travel to visit family and friends.
About 24 percent have said so far that they travel for work, with the vast majority of those answering the survey saying they work in the education, healthcare and manufacturing fields.
Also, 83 percent of those surveyed said they fly out of Memphis while another 12 percent said they travel to Little Rock’s Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport to catch a flight.
A full report on the survey is expected, possibly in late May, while a preliminary report on the airport plan is expected in late summer or early fall of this year.
Officials are working with North Little Rock-based Garver Engineering on the idea. Blake Roberson, an official with Garver, said the goal for the initial part of the project is to get a grasp on the demand from both possible customers and the airlines.
Roberson said the East Arkansas Planning and Development District has played a major role in helping get information for the project. So far, in addition to Newport, meetings have been held in Jonesboro and Pocahontas as well as discussion meetings in Walnut Ridge and Paragould in recent weeks.
If the demand for an expanded or new airport is there, the next phase would involve the site selection as well as facility requirements and developing a master plan to build the project.
While nothing is set in stone, officials have said any new airport could cost at least $250 million, which could be paid for through federal, state and regional funding.
Also, any possible regional airport could require at least two square miles or at least 2,000 acres of land, as well as an area to place several 8,000 to 10,000-foot runways, water, sewer, emergency personnel and access to major interstates or highways, officials said after the meeting.
Right now, there is not a current airport or a facility ready for a regional airport plan, officials said, noting expanding a current airport or building a new one would have to be done.
To learn more go to near-ana.airportplans.com.