NWA airport considers walking away from state’s only moving walkway

Passengers head for Thanksgiving Day flights on Thursday Nov. 25 2021 at Northwest Arkansas National Airport. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

HIGHFILL -- Northwest Arkansas National Airport is beginning work on a $34 million terminal renovation, but it's also trying not to negatively impact flyers during spring break.

A groundbreaking for the terminal improvement project was set for Tuesday after the airport board's regular meeting, but preparations are already underway by the contractor, Nabholz, according to Nick Fondano, chief infrastructure officer.

Construction will overtake the front of the building next week, interior and exterior, Fondano said.

"We're going to leave the central corridor, or the entrance to the main terminal, open through spring break week because that will be a big rush of pedestrians. But, then post-spring break, the whole front entrance is going to be closed," he said.

The drop-off lane in front of the terminal will be closed, the main entrance will be closed and the primary entrances and exits will be the east and west vestibules of the terminal during construction, Fondano said. A temporary wall will be built along the front of the terminal to separate the public from the work.

After the renovation, there will be more elevators, escalators and stairwells and new baggage-handling equipment. The federal Transportation Safety Administration and police areas will be renovated. There also will be a host of architectural upgrades, including new paint, terrazzo floors, lighting and sound baffles; a new information desk and a canopy along the front of the terminal covering the drop-off area; and new flight information displays.

Construction will be done in several phases, and work is estimated to be completed in two years. About $26 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants are being sought to help pay for the work.

Airport officials are also discussing whether to get rid of the 55-foot moving sidewalk in the concourse.

"This thing is problematic, and it takes up a lot of space," Fondano said. "Currently, it's inoperable and needs repair."

Fondano said an evaluation found the moving sidewalk isn't needed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. He said the walkway breaks down regularly and poses liability issues.

"It's not really worth the 55 feet of travel when we also have alternative methods of getting individuals who need assistance to and from the gates," he said.

The moving sidewalk was billed as being the first in Arkansas when it was installed more than a decade ago.

Brian Burke, the airport's attorney and a former board member, said the moving walkway was originally a "fix" because the elevation of the concourse was off when it was built and resulted in a slight incline.

"I think the real question is do people use it because it's there or do they use it because they need to use it," Burke said.

Board members informally agreed staff should explore the option of removing the walkway and using the area for something else, such as additional seating, vending or a coffee kiosk.

Fondano said one potential sticking point is the FAA grant used to pay for the walkway assumed the airport would have a usable unit in the terminal for 20 years.

"So, we still have to go to the FAA to get approval to be able to remove the walkway," he said.

More News