2000 Pulitzer nominee Travel

Proposals for Drake Take Flight

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 2 February 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

Love. Midway. Drake. What do these airports have in common? These fields were relegated to secondary status by progress, that is, bigger and newer nearby airports.

Dallas and Chicago, homes of the first two terminals, respectively, are larger than Fayetteville and have been able to support multiple sets of runways for decades. Major airlines have been using both their urban and suburban airports to profitable success.

Fayetteville, although its heart is as big as Big D and Chi-Town’s, might have to face the jet stream as Drake’s remaining airlines heed the lure of big, new, nearby Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (3XNA2 in Phonetic Pig Latin). Yet Drake’s gates’ losing flights need not be the end of the facility.

As recently closed military bases throughout the country have been modified or out-and-out changed to the eventual benefit of their communities, so Drake Field may have a fresh life and provide benefits for the greater Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers area into the next millennium.

The first proposal should be the most obvious. Make Drake Field an international airport. It may be smaller than the typical U.S. international airport. It may not accept flights of the supersonic Concorde. Still, the business benefits would be tremendous.

Just having private and charter flights come in from around the world would create a host of related businesses and new jobs. There would be a need for warehouses and duty-free shopping malls, as well as the building of homes for U.S. Customs agents and kennels for their contraband-sniffing dogs.

Or Drake Field could be named a national park. If a row of closed bathhouses along a busy, divided street and across from a row of souvenir shops can make up a national park, as in Hot Springs, why not here in Fayetteville?

If not a national park, let’s flood it and create a sanctioned wildlife-wetland area for rare plants and animals. We must act now, while Arkansas has clout in Washington. That is clout we have there, isn’t it?

Drake Field could be privatized. Now that Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market concept of a sub-supermarket is up and running, the Bentonville giant ought to spin off another combination of one of its departments and the downtown of yore. The prototype could be set up in the old Drake terminal building for customer testing.

Let’s put the even money on a “Wal-Mart Square Hardware”: where a fellow could buy one carriage bolt or 12 dozen. There the greeter would welcome you from a rusty stool at a counter marked with cigarette-burn marks and coffee rings. With Wal-Mart’s celebrated vendor contracts, a penny nail still would cost you and me just one cent.

A step between the airport commission and a business is a not-for-profit facility. Let all the area icons of capitalism join forces and foundations. Imagine the crowd at the ribbon-cutting for the (Your Name First If You’ve More Than)-Walton-Hunt-Jones-Reynolds Center for Applied Sciences, Industrial Arts and Cultural Diversity.

Such a charity would keep people flocking to this part of Fayetteville for drafting classes, typewriter repair, long arithmetic, charcoal grilling, home economics and six-pack-net quilting. If these fields were viable, they wouldn’t need non-profit status, and the corporations, not their foundations, would take good care of them. If some of the fields take off, then, as businesses, they still could be run from the terminal, tower, hangars and sheds.

You may think I’m a dreamer for believing Drake Field has a future. Yet just in recent weeks an aviation school has announced it would move to Drake.

So maybe you should hear this idea: a satellite campus of the University of Arkansas for satellite technology. Yes, the Arkansas Space Administration (ASA for short) would give students hands-on experience with all facets of unmanned telecommunication orbiters, from assembling and lift-off to mistakenly crashing into Beaver Lake.

The rocket launches should not be any noisier than the daily plane count at Drake in 1997, if you average out the decibels over a year.


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