WM Airport looking to the future

Public weighs in on 20-Year Plan

By John Rech news@theeveningtimes.com

Thirty curious folks gathered at West Memphis City Hall Tuesday evening to participate with the municipal airport in developing a new 20-Year Plan. The airport recently concluded all the projects on its last plan and requirements call for a renewed look into the future. Airport commissioners, and FAA official, airport engineers and citizens turned out for the session. Some citizens thought they’d hear about the latest plans from the airport but the shoe was put on the other foot as Airport manager Lynda Avery and engineers with ETI asked about the hopes and concerns of those on hand. After covering the history of the airport and the wrap up of the last 20-Year Plan, Avery told the audience future plans were a “blank slate.” Residents in nearby neighborhoods worried about noise and traffic increases and expressed uncertainties about residential property values. The answer received was good new. “There are noise restrictions on new aircraft now,” said Avery. “So new jets are even quieter.” Asked about runway expansion and the effect on neighborhoods Avery provided a thoughtful answer. “We could only expand about 500 feet of runway toward the south, toward the railroad,” said Avery. “We could not accommodate bigger aircraft even if we were to expand that way.” In the airport presentation Avery pointed out the importance of the airport to the local community and that funds to operate and improve the airport were driven from aviation related taxes. The airport has twice been awarded Arkansas Airport of the year, both in 1998 and 2013. “We are a general aviation airport one of 13,000 in the country,” said Avery. 131 aircraft are based in West Memphis. According to facility statistics 91 percent of all operations art business flights with ground transportation to other locations at Mid-South. Jet fuel and Av-Gas sales provide an income stream. Frequent flights include air ambulances carrying patients or transplant tissue, freight and cargo services, search and rescue and military aircraft refueling. The airport served as an economic catalyst for the area as well with some big businesses settling in near the airport. “When Family Dollar located here, we were one of three very similar finalists,” said Avery. “Our airport gave us an edge because we were a reliever airport and just two miles away from their site. That is 500 jobs that came to our area.”

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