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XNA receives large grant to complete runway work

story by Jamie Smith
jsmith@thecitywire.com

The largest single grant that the Northwest Arkansas Arkansas Regional Airport has ever received since opening in 1998 was announced Friday afternoon (Sept. 14).

The $19.5 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration grant will be enough for the airport to finish the runway renovation at one time, said Airport Director Kelly Johnson.

The airport had been promised 3, $10 million grants over time but has now received $39.5 million. The first $10 million grant was announced last year, the second grant was announced about two weeks ago and this is the third grant with an additional $9.5 million more than was promised. That additional money would have been asked for the following fiscal year and repaid with cash flow over the next four years.

Officials were able to find money during final disbursement to promise to the airport now so that the project can continue without halting to wait for money, Johnson said.

“We got the project bid and we were ready to go,” she said. “They knew we were anxious to do this with one contractor and not do it in bits and pieces,” she said.

The announcement came from a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.

“An airport is only as good as its runway, and this significant grant will allow Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport to perform a necessary runway rehabilitation,” Womack said in his statement. “This sizable investment of federal funds will be utilized to ensure the future viability of one of Northwest Arkansas’ key components of transportation infrastructure.”

Johnson was also pleased about the news, adding that this gives the airport the ability to accelerate the construction schedule by at least a year.

“It’s great, it’s a home run,” she said. “It’s the best-case scenario we could have hoped for.”

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.

The news Friday is part of a recent string of grant awards for XNA.

A $950,000 Small Community Air Service Development federal grant has been approved to be used by XNA as a revenue guarantee to attract another low-cost carrier to the airport. The only discount carrier is Allegiant and there are limited destinations available through that carrier. For the first eight months of 2012, Allegiant has carried 8.6% of XNA enplanements. Johnson has said XNA loses some business because of higher ticket prices.

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August enplanements at XNA totaled 50,388, up 11.28% compared to August 2011, and the first year-over-year increase since February. The last time enplanements at XNA topped 50,000 in August was in 2007. For the first eight months of 2012, enplanements at XNA total 376,064, down 1.35% compared to the same period in 2011.

XNA officials also learned Sept. 12 they were approved for a $270,000 grant to create a Sustainable Master Plan, which will outline the airport’s sustainability goals and initiatives. This plan will allow the airport to reduce its environmental impact, realize economic benefits and improve community relations.

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