Batesville airport secures millions for improvements

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – Work will begin soon on the biggest project undertaken at the Batesville Regional Airport since it was built.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a grant worth $2.3 million to the airport for improvements and new construction projects.

City leaders say part of the money will be used to extend the runway safety area and meet new standards.

The airport currently has a runway that is 6,002 feet in length. A sharp drop is located not too far from where the pavement ends. The steep grade poses a significant safety risk for pilots that may overshoot the runway or land short of it, according to airport commission chairman Karl Kemp.

"The idea is to smooth that land off and make it much more of a gradual slope so that if an airplane does overrun," Kemp said, "it's much less likely to have catastrophic damage."

To create that gradual slope, the City of Batesville needed a significant amount of money, and luckily Kemp and the four other airport commissioners found out the government was handing out grants to complete projects similar to theirs.

"There's no way we could've pulled this off without the federal grant or without the state's assistance," Kemp noted.

The $2.3 million in assistance will not only help extend the runway safety area recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration, but it will also pay to install almost three miles of fencing around the back half of the airport.

"That's good news for pilots," said Darren Wilkes, the airport manager, "to help us control the deer and maybe the coyotes and stuff, wildlife, keep it off the runway."

Wilkes and other city officials agree the upgrades will help protect what the city deems an economic gateway for the community.

"We have one of the nicest airports in this part of the country," Kemp added. "We've got the longest runway. We've got a nice, wide runway, and we're real proud to see that we're going to get a runway safety area now that will make it an even safer airport."

The City of Batesville plans to begin accepting bids for the project in the next few weeks.

Construction is expected to get underway in September, with the target for completion set sometime after the New Year.

Copyright 2012 KAIT. All rights reserved.