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City Council members caught a glimpse Tuesday night of a future for the city airport that does away with asphalt seas and uninviting wire barriers.
Instead of an airport, stakeholders of Louise M. Thaden Field envision an “air park.” The aesthetically pleasing airport would draw visitors with green space and gateways from the recently reworked Southwest I Street and Southwest Regional Airport Boulevard.
The airport would mesh better with the trails and nearby parks at Lake Bentonville and the planned Community Center, said Chad Cox, a pilot and instructor.
Alderman Bill Burckart, Ward 3, said he would like to see the city take steps toward improving the airport.
“We’re designing all these parks and trails in the city but we seems to have left this,” he said. “With the lake to the north and with I Street, we can create a park-like setting. Instead of what you see now, it would be a park for the kids you can really enjoy.”
Changes at the airport in recent years reflect the growth the city has seen. Airport traffic continues to grow, while fuel sales are up more than 50 percent over the last three years, said Pat Carroll, a member of the Airport Commission. The airport serves a wider variety of planes and more corporate jets than in the past.
“There are a lot of activities going on now at the airport,” Carroll said. “We’re starting to compete. We’re growing, and that’s a great accomplishment.”
The east side of the airport will be at its maximum on development with the completion of the Lawrence Classics hangar. Airport officials are now looking to the west side, nearer to Southwest I Street, for growth opportunities.
Plans include changing the aesthetics of the airport to make it a place people feel a sense of participation, whether they are watching planes, catching a flight or seeking flight instruction.
Renderings shown to the council presented a community-oriented airport with clean asphalt runways, a grass landing strip and Quonset-hut style hangars buffered from parks and trails by shrubbery. A circular paved strip would help with plane turnaround with an unending rectangle of asphalt.
Cox said the timetable for the proposed changes is dependent on federal grants. Interest from private investors is high, with a large hangar in the works for the west side of the runway.
Airport officials are working with the city’s Planning Department to come up with design standards that will take into account the purpose of the hangars while ensuring buildings along Southwest I Street fit in with the city’s plans.
The United Kingdom’s Aerobatic Team will make the airport their home base the first week of October while they prepare for the World Aerobatic Championships set for Oct. 9-20 in Texas. The Federal Aviation Administration recently approved an aerobatic area over the airport and nearby fields for pilots to practice the unique flight skill, Cox told aldermen. Airport operator Summit Aviation will check pilot credentials and schedule practice times.
The United Kingdom team will visit area schools and serve as advocates for aviation in the community while here, Cox said.