After three years of construction work, Conway’s new airport is opening this week. A dedication ceremony is set for Friday, but planes will begin using the new facility in the city’s Lollie Bottoms area Monday.
It's on 430 acres and replaces an airport in the center of town that was about a third that size and had opened 1928. But as Conway grew around it, space was severely limited, with officials long considering a new location.
"The whole process has been ongoing on and off, really since the late 1970s was when Conway started looking to move the airport," said Airport Manger Josh Zylks.
A key problem was the length of the runway, which didn’t give pilots much room if they had problems during takeoffs or landings.
In 1990, a pilot was killed while attempting to land, crashing into a house. 17 years later, Zylks says a similar accident occurred, killing a pilot and a woman in another home.
"When they had the airplane crash at the old airport in 2007, that was kind of what really shook everything loose and really got the FAA involved with being behind moving the airport."
The federal government has paid most of the cost for the new airport, which Zylks says will end up costing in the $28 million to $30 million price range.
It features a longer runway for emergency landings and more space for planes.
"It’s going to be a great economic development tool and it’s just safer," Zylks said. "We’ve got a designated safety overrun area with a minimum of a thousand feet off each end of the runway. There’s no obstructions, it’s just a much safer environment."
The old airport will continue operating for about another month. There are plans for the ground it sits on to eventually become a large shopping center, but that’s contingent on the city building streets through the area.