Where to park your plane? Airport officials consider lack of hangar space in Northwest Arkansas

The construction of a series of hangars on the east side of the Springdale Municipal Airport continues in this Feb. 23, 2023 file photo. The site was set to be home to four hangars, which airport officials said are in short supply in Northwest Arkansas. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)
The construction of a series of hangars on the east side of the Springdale Municipal Airport continues in this Feb. 23, 2023 file photo. The site was set to be home to four hangars, which airport officials said are in short supply in Northwest Arkansas. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

More people are flying their own airplanes in Northwest Arkansas these days, and that's making space to store those aircraft between flights scarce, according to airport operators.

"We have a waiting list for T-hangars, corporate hangars and for space to build hangars," said Jared Rabren, director at Fayetteville Executive Airport. "I currently have 106 on my wait list for T-hangars, which would be the most common type of hangar, generally for smaller aircraft. For reference, I only have 94 T-hangar units on the field."

A T-hangar is a type of enclosed structure designed to hold aircraft in protective storage. T-hangars are designed to take advantage of the shape of most general aviation aircraft where the main wings are longer than the horizontal stabilizer. Typically constructed of metal, they are primarily used for private aircraft at general aviation airports because they are more economical than rectangular hangars.

James Smith, director at the Springdale Municipal Airport, said the hangars at that airport are also staying full and there is a waiting list there as well.

There was no waiting list five years ago, Rabren said.

"We've really seen an uptick of people moving to the area as well as more businesses buying aircraft for the first time," Rabren said.

Officials at the Fayetteville airport are working on several projects to encourage private hangar development to help ease the pressure, he said.

"T-hangars are costly and difficult to get funding for. Long term, we're looking to build more of them, but that process takes quite a bit longer than private construction, and with my wait list at over 100% of capacity, time is of the essence," Rabren said.

He said the last estimate he saw put T-hangar construction at close to $1 million by the time you do dirt work, concrete and everything else required. One T-hangar building would house 10 to 12 small aircraft.

"The first one would be the most expensive as it would include the bulk of the dirt work, utilities and concrete," Rabren said. "After that you're looking at roughly $600,000 per building, 10 to 12 units, and I have room for roughly three buildings total."

A single T-hangar space rents for about $180 a month, $225 for a twin T-hangar, according to Rabren.

That demand for hangar space has officials at Northwest Arkansas National Airport exploring the possibility of getting into the general aviation game.

Northwest Arkansas National Airport board members and staff discussed on Tuesday the idea of developing a site for general aviation on airport property. An access road, running utilities, site grading and an apron for aircraft would cost an estimated $8.4 million.

The airport is the region's largest, so space is not an issue. They've looked at three potential sites.

The question is whether it's a good investment of the airport's money when balanced against the millions of dollars' worth of potential capital projects they have lined up over the next 20 years or so, according to Andrew Branch, chief operating officer.

"It sounded like the general consensus that we got from the board was that probably for the next three to five years it's on ice unless somebody comes to us, like a big tenant," Branch said. "If we have a specific request, we're obviously going to be open for anybody, but it didn't sound like we'd spend any money to do any [general aviation] development in probably three to five years at least."

Those pending projects -- like a new concourse, baggage claim expansion, new rental car facilities, a new air traffic control tower, TSA checkpoint improvements and other expansions -- are aimed at improving commercial passenger service, the customer experience and safety at the airport.

The region's smaller general aviation airports don't offer regular commercial passenger service. They cater to private pilots and host charter service operators, fixed-base operations, flight schools and aviation-related businesses as well as corporate aviation, including some of the larger companies in the area.

Branch said the idea came up because some board members had asked, and the airport regularly gets inquiries from people or entities wanting to build a hangar.

Some of the smaller airports are looking at adding hangars over the next few years, but some are running out of space, Branch said.

"We're approaching that time when all the local airports at some point, maybe it's five or 10 years away, they won't have any room to build any more hangars, and people will still want space," Branch said.

"But, it's so expensive to prepare the dirt and to get the infrastructure ready and the rates for the leases are so low that it's a challenging financial thing."

He said the smaller airports can sometimes use federal money they receive to build hangars.

"We've got competing interests with all the commercial stuff we need to do, so our federal money is pretty much tied up for years," he said.

But Branch said as the region continues to grow, the opportunities will likely increase.

"At some point somebody's going to say, 'Northwest Arkansas is where we have to be, we need a long runway and we need a big spot,' and that's when it will make sense to be at XNA," Branch said.

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