story by Jamie Smith
HIGHFILL—Work on the main runway at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport can move forward as officials learned Wednesday that the airport received the necessary grant for the runway renovation work.
“We’re excited about that; we’ve been waiting to hear,” said Kelly Johnson, XNA airport director. “We were programmed to get it but we weren’t for sure because it’s discretionary funding.”
The $10 million federal grant was announced Wednesday in a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
This grant is the second of three expected $10 million grants for XNA. The first $10 million grant was received last year and is being held for engineering costs related to renovating and repairing drainage along the runway. The third grant will be sought at a later time and will be used to continue paving and lighting improvements at the airport.
While the airport has had to wait for final word on the funding, it’s been able to progress the project in other ways. In June, Harper Co. was chosen as the contractor for the $26.166 million contract. An alternate runway was built last year and became taxiway alpha July 23. Drainage projects related to the main runway project have also been underway, Johnson said.
“With this grant we can start demolition of the existing runway,” she said.
Crews will also work on creating two of three connecting taxiways immediately, which will help shorten taxi time for the planes. The overall project will be done in phases according to when funding comes available but airport officials hope to be done within two years. Work can begin as early as next week when the grant documents arrive, Johnson said.
Earlier this month, XNA received word about another grant, this time a $950,000 Small Community Air Service Development Grant. That money will be used as a revenue guarantee to attract another low-cost carrier to the airport, Johnson said. The only discount carrier is Allegiant and there are limited destinations available through that carrier.
“We want to drive air fares down,” Johnson said. “We know we’re losing air traffic to other airports because of the price point. … (With this grant) we will have the money tell a new airline that we will make up the difference if they are not making money right away. It’s an incentive that lower their risk to get into our market.”
Both grants, as well as improvements being made to the airport concourse are all efforts to increase traffic and better the experience for existing travelers. The improved infrastructure is hoped to generate economic growth. Pryor, Boozman and Womack addressed these issues in the press release regarding Wednesday’s $10 million grant announcement.
“The single, most important step we can take to create private-sector jobs is to invest in our infrastructure,” Pryor said in his statement. “These federal funds will ensure the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport remains a vital travel hub in our state, bringing jobs, businesses, and economic development to northwest Arkansas.”