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NWA EDITORIAL: City, county policies should support XNA protection efforts

XNA tries to avoid development conflicts by NWA Democrat-Gazette | June 21, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
Northwest Arkansas National Airport, seen Thursday Nov. 25 2021, seeks to attract more low-fare airlines..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

When construction on what was then known as Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport started back in 1995 with a "cloudbreaking" ceremony, officials were just glad to have 2,200 acres on which a long-anticipated, and long put off, regional airport could be built.

The rural location of the project prompted more than a few snickers, as people spoke of an airport out in the middle of no where. Workers building the airport had to either bring their own lunches or travel about five miles away to the nearest restaurant.

Money was tight as the authority building the airport tried to bring the project in on a $107 million budget. Getting it built was Job No. 1. It seemed there would be plenty of time later to worry about acquiring more land and making sure nearby cities' development didn't constrain the future. Most of the airport's neighbors were cows back then. That's becoming less and less the case.

Flash forward to 2022. The airport has been open now for nearly a quarter century. Today, it's known as Northwest Arkansas National Airport because passengers can board flights directly to cities across the country -- Los Angeles, Miami, New York and another couple of dozen locations in between.

It's been a huge success, growing its facilities and services as the region around it has grown in population and as Northwest Arkansas companies rely on business travel through its gates.

And now, making sure the airport and the communities surrounding it can co-exist peacefully is becoming a challenge.

"Incompatible development" is a growing concern, as it is for every airport on the planet. Because airports are noisy places and the busier they get, the harder it is for people nearby on the ground to ignore it.

Where does one build an airport? Preferably on relatively flat ground and surrounded by the same. And flat ground in Northwest Arkansas is valuable as thousands and thousands more people are expected to move to the region in the years ahead. That means developers want that land.

"They're not coming out this way because the airport is out here. The reason they're out here is the terrain is conducive to development," Philip Taldo, an airport board member and Realtor, said in the Sunday paper. "This is the most obvious place to put an airport, and it's the most obvious place to put houses."

Houses and airports can co-exist at certain distances, but if nearby houses are built without regard to the presence of jet engines, it can lead to decades of headaches for homeowners and airport operations..

The last thing Northwest Arkansas needs is an airport with operations and future opportunities constrained by poor planning.

So it's good news airport officials are trying to work with municipal governments near its borders with hopes of putting limits on the residential growth that could cramp the airport's style. Why would Northwest Arkansas build an outstanding airport only to see its future limited by insufficient planning?

From a public policy perspective, it's incumbent on the cities nearby to work cooperatively with the airport to reduce or eliminate land-use clashes as land is developed. Doing it later is difficult and, as one would expect, far more expensive. People certainly have rights to fair use of their property, but protecting the airport's operations is critical. Indeed, one could say the region's economic growth is as tied to that airport as to the region's interstates or water and sewer infrastructure.

Centerton, Highfill and Bentonville as well as the county has a responsibility to make sure Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport can fly high for many decades to come. That responsibility necessitates municipal codes that protect the airport's capacity to meet the region's commercial flying needs.

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What’s the point?

It’s vital that public policies protect the operational capabilities of Northwest Arkansas National Airport.


Print Headline: All clear ahead?


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