The Pine Bluff Aviation Commission has voted to approve spending $1,300 to buy a sign from Arkansas Correctional Industries to direct people to Pine Bluff Regional/Airport Grider Field. Airport manager Doug Hale discussed the sign, saying it will be placed around portable buildings about half a mile west of the intersection of U.S. 65 and Arkansas 81. The sign will measure four feet by eight feet and state the name of the airport at 709 Hangar Row. Hale said the owner of the property permits the sign.

Commissioners Dr. Michele Pashkevich, Harvey Sizemore, Rocky Thornburgh, Tommy Palmer and Ken Johnson approved the motion at Thursday’s meeting. Hale said he will install the sign. Commissioners and Hale had previously discussed getting this sign for months to help people find the airport.

In a discussion about increasing traffic to the airport, Hale said he wants travelers to know that Grider Field is a pet-friendly airport.

“We certainly welcome four-legged visitors,” Hale said. “That is something we need to market.”

In other news, Johnson asked Hale what the length of the Grider Field runway is with an eye toward attracting more pilots to land in Pine Bluff. Hale said Grider Field’s runway measures 5,998 feet, which is two feet shorter than it was supposed to be. Hale relayed a conversation he had with a Federal Aviation Administration employee who was being evasive as to why the Grider Field runway is two feet shorter than 6,000 feet. Hale said he kept pressing the FAA employee until he or she answered his question.

“I finally got the FAA to confess that it was an error,” Hale said. “It should have been 6,000 feet long. However, it ended up being 5,998 feet … it’s been that way for many years, and it will be that way until the FAA approves adding the two additional feet.”

Hale has been the manager of the airport for 12 years and said he has wanted to know the answer to that question for at least that long. In other news, the commission is waiting on the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics to make a decision on its request for money to do the third phase of an asphalt rehabilitation project. Grider Field has already received newly-repaved asphalt for phases one and two. The project is a total of four phases.

Hale said the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics restructured its grants with respect to its funding patterns.

“We are waiting for their funding sources to improve,” Hale said. “They can’t fund it if they don’t have the money. And right now, they don’t have the money. In the state of Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics revenue is generated from aviation-related taxes only. They do not receive any money from the general fund. Those revenues are down steeply.”

Hale said he seeks to replace the existing pavement, fix the sub-grade and apply new asphalt.

“The condition of the road has degraded over the years and it needs to be rehabilitated,” Hale said. “This is a proactive commission that is trying to keep improvements on the airfield.”

Higher fuel prices translate to higher revenue, Hale said. He recalled 2008 when fuel prices soared, which boded well for airports because the ADA revenues were much higher. Johnson responded that he is hopeful that the ADA will approve the request.

In employee news, Hale said he wants to close the airport office on Independence Day and New Year’s Day in response to few pilots using the airport on those holidays. Hale said he wants his employees to be able to spend time with their families on those days.

The commission made a slight amendment to Hale’s request. The commission agreed to close the airport office on New Year’s Day and to give Hale the discretion to close on Independence Day depending on what day of the week it falls in a particular year.

With respect to Grider Field employees, Hale said they are currently allowed to accumulate up to 90 working days or 720 hours of sick leave from one year to the next. He proposed a change that states employees who do not use their sick leave in excess of 90 days will receive $25 per eight hour day of unused sick leave at the end of the year. The commission approved Hale’s request. Commissioners Keidra Burrell and Kenneth Collins were absent.