January 14, 2015 Edition

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Airport to review leases, club
looks for ways to reopen range

Bob Johnson, partner with General Aviation Consulting Services, spoke with the Airports Commission, city officials and others on Thursday about FAA requirements regarding lease agreements. The commission is working on reviewing its leases and has formed a committee to make sure everything is in compliance with federal regulations.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

A special information meeting was held Thursday at the Wings of Honor Museum to educate city officials and others on Federal Aviation Administration requirements and lease agreements in regards to Walnut Ridge Regional Airport.

The Airport Commission, members of the Walnut Ridge City Council, airport tenants and others gathered to hear Bob Johnson, a partner of General Aviation Consulting Services, present information about what the airport needs to do to keep its FAA funding.

Commission chair Don Cavenaugh said the meeting was arranged for the benefit of the new members on the Commission and the city council.

"I'd like to get the Commission more involved," Cavenaugh said. There are plans to form several committees to focus on specific aspects of the airport such as its appearance and leases. A lease committee has already been formed to review and update leases as needed.

Johnson focused on leases during his presentation and explained some of the things required to continue to receive federal aid. He advised on issues such as lease-length requirements, aviation versus non-aviation lease agreements, fair market value requirements on property used for non-aviation and liability risks surrounding lease agreements.

Members of the Northeast Arkansas Gun Club of Walnut Ridge were present to ask about concerns regarding using airport land for their skeet shooting range, which was closed in November.

Johnson said that the FAA will review non-aviation lease agreements much more thoroughly, and they are much less likely to get FAA approval.

He said the FAA receives no benefit for taking risks and to get them to approve a shooting range would require a very thorough lease agreement.

When asked for advice, Johnson told gun club members to rework the original agreement to establishe rules and regulations on shooting times and requirements. He also said they need to make a case and show how the club benefited the airport and the city.

Even if a new agreement is made up and all the proper assessments and safety precautions are done, there is still no guarantee that the range will ever be reopened.

"We can try to make anything happen but the assurance that the FAA will agree to it is way beyond what anybody in this room can do," Johnson said during the meeting.

Johnson added he would be available to consult on any future airport issues, and Cavenaugh said he is a good resource to provide objective advice.

The Commission is open to working with the gun club in the future to try to find solutions, according to Cavenaugh.

The Airport Commission will hold its first full meeting of the year on Monday. Cavenaugh said the airport is in good shape and out of debt. It is likely the airport will lose its military fuel contract in March, which will decrease revenue, but it is the state and federal aid the airport receives that keeps it self-sustaining.

Cavenaugh said the Commission is going to work toward several capital improvements and upgrades and will work with all the tenants to help them improve their businesses.

"We've got the infrastructure to accommodate growth," Cavenaugh said. He added that the airport is set up with enough land and runway capabilities to bring in some new industry. He also added that the airport is capable of handling air traffic needed for Peco Foods or other industries to come.

"This airport is a great asset and helps the city, Lawrence County and even Northeast Arkansas," Cavenaugh said.

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