City & County

Arkadelphia’s new airport terminal puts city’s ‘best foot forward’

A new terminal building at Dexter Florence Memorial Field awaits pilots and passengers who visit Arkadelphia by plane.

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

Visitors who come to Arkadelphia by air now have a cozy place to wait before a set of wheels takes them into town.

The grand opening of a new 1,600-square-foot terminal building was celebrated Thursday, Feb. 23, at Dexter Florence Memorial Field, where about 80 residents gathered to take in the addition to the municipal airport.

The $650,000 project was funded mainly by a pair of grants totaling $400,000 from the state Department of Aeronautics. The remainder came from franchise fees the city collects from utility companies; funds that would otherwise be designated for basic city needs rather than capital improvements. 

City Manager Gary Brinkley said the city’s share of funding was made possible by the 1% Move Arkadelphia Forward sales tax.

Having a facility where pilots and their passengers can make use of a lobby, pilot’s room, conference room, office area and full bathroom helps Arkadelphia put its “best foot forward” for attracting out-of-state companies. Until now, those who landed at the airport were confined to a 600-square-foot building after stepping off a plane.

Who was Dexter Florence?

Lt. Dexter Florence was an Arkadelphia resident who in 1972 was shot down in Vietnam and later died from injuries suffered in the crash. The young pilot was flying a low surveillance mission when his helicopter set off a land mine. The Arkadelphia Board of Directors named the airport in his honor in the late ’90s.

At Thursday’s terminal opening, the airport was presented with a plaque commemorating Florence, who was named in November to the Arkansas Military Veterans’ Hall of Fame. Pictured, from left, are City Manager Gary Brinkley, airport manager Michael Sellers and Larry Cain, who lobbied as a city director to name the airport in Florence’s honor.

Others who spoke at the event included Michael Sellers, airport manager; Jerry Chism, director of the Department of Aeronautics; and John Knight, member of the airport committee and former director of the Department of Aeronautics. All spoke about the airport’s importance to the area, as it not only serves Henderson State University’s aviation program but also a range of other needs for business professionals and aviators.

The Little Rock-based Lewis Architect Engineers was selected as the architect for the project, and the local Seale Construction Company was the contractor.

Arkadelphia’s airport is currently home to 28 aircraft, including a jet, two twin-engine aircraft and 25 single-engine aircraft, most of which are owned by Henderson and used in flight training.

With Henderson offering the only four-year degree in aviation in Arkansas, Arkadelphia’s airport ranks among the state’s busiest in number of departure and arrival operations.

Chism, the director of the Department of Aeronautics, said the agency is able to provide grants to municipalities largely because of fuel sales.

Community members prepare for a ribbon cutting outside the terminal building as airport manager Michael Sellers readies to make the cut. | Joel Phelps/The Arkadelphian

Fuel sales by gallons have increased at Dexter Florence Memorial Field over the past several years. According to the city’s latest finance and administration activity report, more than 75,000 gallons of fuel were sold in 2022, with the increase thanks mainly to jet fuel sales. About 40% of the overall fuel sales were for jet aircraft, which purchased 30,000 gallons of fuel in 2022 compared to slightly less than 20,000 gallons the previous year. AvGas, the fuel that powers small piston engine powered aircraft, has averaged about 42,000 gallons each year since 2018, while jet fuel has averaged about 21,000 gallons during the same timeframe.

In 2022 alone, fuel sales totaled $425,000 at the Arkadelphia airport. The four-year average between 2018-2021 was $266,000.

CLICK HERE to read the press release from the City of Arkadelphia.

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