A $4.9 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Fort Smith Regional Airport is the largest single grant received by the airport and will pay for completion of a major taxiway realignment by the fall of 2015.
The grant was announced Monday (Aug. 11) by the offices of U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers.
On May 27 the Fort Smith Regional Airport Commission approved awarding a construction bid to Forsgren for construction of phase three of the Taxiway A West project. The approval was for a contract of $4.636 million with a deductive alternate of $3.741 million.
With the $4.9 million grant, the full design for the taxiway work will move ahead, Parker said. Because of higher labor costs, materials cost and other inflation factors, original estimates set in 2010 were below the real costs in 2014. However, Parker said the FAA agreed to provide more than the original estimate, thus negating the lower alternate bid.
“This is really a big deal for Fort Smith. In fact, this is the largest single grant that the airport has received. ... We’ve had larger projects, but in terms of the amount of money, this is the largest single FAA grant,” Parker explained.
He estimated that work on the third and final phase of the taxiway realignment should be completed by the fall of 2015.
"These funds will allow Fort Smith to make smart, essential improvements to its airport," Womack said in a statement. "Developing our transportation infrastructure is key to the continued growth of the city's and our state's economies."
Commercial traffic at the regional field is on a positive track after posting a decline in 2013. The airport, served by flights from Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth, posted June enplanements of 8,393, up 6.56% compared to June 2013. Enplanements for the first six months of 2014 total 44,730, up 6.39% compared to the same period in 2013.
For all of 2013, enplanements at the airport totaled 84,520, down 2.46% compared to the same period in 2012. The decline ended three consecutive years of enplanement gains at the airport.
Parker also said airport staff may recommend contracting with Green Bay, Wisc.-based Pro-Tec Fire Services to provide rescue and fire-fighting services at the airport.
On its website, Pro-Tec says it “pioneered the contract Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting services market in the United States in 1975.” Its service map shows 16 airports where it provides some level of rescue and fire support.
Such support was previously provided by the 188th Fighter Wing. The National Guard unit recently transitioned from a manned flying mission to an unmanned flying mission, eliminating the necessity of its own fire protection.
Parker has previously estimated that providing the fire service could cost the airport $750,000, which would be one-third of the airport’s revenue.
The effort to secure fire services has been hampered by the lack of timely response from National Guard Bureau officials on whether the airport can use the equipment and vehicles previously used by the 188th.