CONWAY — Josh Zylks of El Dorado said his goal as manager of the new $30 million Conway airport is to make it “the premier general-aviation airport in the central part of the state.”
Zylks is Conway Mayor Tab Townsell’s pick from among 10 finalists for manager of Cantrell Field, scheduled to open in mid-August in the Lollie Bottoms area near the Arkansas River.
Zylks, 25, is airport manager at South Arkansas Regional Airport in El Dorado, his first job after an internship at Monroe Regional Airport in Louisiana.
His parents are El Dorado natives and still live there, he said.
“After college, it was a great opportunity to go back home and get some great experience at a great airport,” Zylks said.
He went to Louisiana Tech University with the intention of going through its aviation program and becoming a pilot, he said.
“I have aviation kind of in the family,” with a grandfather and a great-grandfather who were pilots, he said. A next-door neighbor in El Dorado was a corporate pilot and served as an influence, he said.
“I always liked airplanes,” Zylks said.
However, once he got into the aviation program, he changed his mind.
“I decided the pilot life was not for me,” he said. “I like sleeping in my own bed at night.”
Zylks changed his major to aviation management, and after graduation, he earned a master’s degree in business administration from LSU.
He is “not quite” a pilot, he said, but he plans to get his license someday. He is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Aviation Management Society and the National Aviation Honor Society, Eta Mu Sigma.
Townsell said the personnel committee gave him a “short list” of applicants from which to choose.
“A lot of the heavy lifting was done by the committee itself,” Townsell said.
“Bill Hegeman has been immensely involved in Conway and economic development for years. Everybody else on this committee is a pilot, so they knew better the attributes to look for,” he said.
Zylks has several attributes that make him the right choice, Townsell said.
“He had all the right degrees. He’s obviously pursued this career path in management; he’s pursued the aviation industry and picked up his M.B.A. He’s done the education side of things, which I really like. … It speaks highly of an educational town — have you got your education to pursue this career?”
“He also has the experience as a manager. He’s already run people; he’s run an airport. He knows ultimately where he needs to take the airport,” the mayor said.
“Another thing that was attractive to me in terms of his resume is the fact that he’s been in El Dorado. El Dorado is not just your run-of-the-mill airport. You have a major global corporate presence in El Dorado. You have Murphy Oil — they travel worldwide.”
Even though Conway will not be a corporate airport, “he knows how to deal with that element, that global, corporate customer, and I think moving forward, that’s a great asset to have,” Townsell said.
The Conway position was attractive to him for many reasons, Zylks said.
“This job in particular, that it’s a brand-new airport — it’s just very rare nowadays that you see communities get new airports,” he said. “You just don’t see it. It’s land use, it’s cost, there are all these prohibitive factors — you work with what you’ve got; you buy the houses around it” or work on the airstrip.
He said he wanted “to help start a brand-new airport and get it open and run it the way we think it ought to be done.”
“Conway’s just a growing place. I have friends who went to college there and spent some time there,” he said.
He said Conway’s new airport will be a boost to economic development.
“From an economic perspective, providing better access to the community, whether it’s business owners or people flying on the weekends for fun, … providing better access brings in tax revenues,” Zylks said.
“We want to have good customer service and just provide a great service to our customers.”
Because of its proximity to Little Rock, commercial flights will not land in Conway’s airport, he said. Instead, it will be for private, corporate and agriculture flights.
“My goal for it is kind of the same as what the airport board shared when I interviewed, and another thing that’s attractive — we have a goal to make this the premier general-aviation airport in the central part of the state,” Zylks said.
Zylks will be responsible for all airport management, including compliance with state and federal regulations. He will manage the city-owned fixed-base operations, lineman duties, tenant relations and leases, airport maintenance, and financial, budget and fueling operations.
His other duties will include working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics, as well as doing marketing and public relations associated with the airport.
His annual salary will be $60,000.
Zylks said he will move to Conway soon and start to work in June.
The new airport will feature a 5,550- by 100-foot runway with a full-length taxiway. A 6,300-square-foot terminal is under construction, and work on T-hangars, community hangars and corporate hangars will begin soon, according to a news release.
The current airport, Dennis F. Cantrell Field on Sixth Street, will close. The sale of the property will help pay for the new airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics are providing most of the money for the new airport.
A subcommittee of the seven-member Conway Airport Advisory Committee reviewed the applications for manager.
The subcommittee members were Bill Hegeman, chairman; Bill Atkinson; and Harrell Clendenin.
The list of candidates was narrowed to 17, then 10, said Lisa Mabry-Williams, the city’s human-resources director.
The other nine finalists are as follows:
• Michelle Anthony of Portia (Lawrence County), manager of the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport;
• Sylvian “Sam” Carver of Gulfport, Mississippi, who was airport director of the Slidell, Louisiana, municipal airport from 2007-2011;
• Erick D’Leon of Byron, Georgia, operations manager of TBI Airport Management Inc. and the Middle Georgia Regional and Macon Downtown airports;
• Walter Gray of Great Mills, Maryland, self-employed in personal property and financial management;
• Michael McDougall of Lake Charles, Louisiana, airport director of Southland Executive Airport;
• Wesley Nokes of Smithville, Tennessee, airport manager of Smithville Municipal Airport;
• Jim Primm of Roswell, New Mexico, director of operations of Great Southwest Aviation;
• Robert F. Snuck of Mount Juliet, Tennessee, manager at the McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport Tower from 2009-2013; and
• Joseph D. Wheeler of Cut Off, Louisiana, airport manager of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.