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The Batesville Regional Airport is located on Highway 167 (Batesville Boulevard) in the town of Southside (Independence County), about four miles south of Batesville, the county seat of Independence County. The City of Batesville owns the airport, which is a public-use general aviation airport averaging ninety-five aircraft operations per day (approximately six percent of which are military). The airport and hangars accommodate light general aviation aircraft of all sizes, including small jets. In 2015, the airport had more than fifty based aircraft and employed seventy-two people. The economic impact of the airport on Batesville and Independence County—including on motels, restaurants, transportation businesses, and the poultry industry—has been estimated by the Arkansas Department of Aeronautics to be approximately $5,486,400 annually.
The airport began operations on December 1, 1944, with a small, grassy runway located in a field. It expanded in 1970 with financial assistance from the federal Airport Development Aid Program and the Ozark Regional Commission. When the airport expanded, it became one of the largest airports in the state, covering almost 400 acres and containing two asphalt paved runways; the primary one is lighted. The primary runway is 6,002 feet long, and the other paved runway measures 2,800 feet.
The airport covers part of the old McHue Road. The road was rerouted, and the limited-access Runway Road opened, which enabled accessibility for those who owned property behind the airport.
Even before the airport opened, there was much interest in the area in aeronautics. A barnstorming was held at Moorefield (Independence County), just east of Batesville, in 1939. A big air show took place in the Ramsey Bottoms, between the White River and Ramsey Mountain, south of Batesville, in 1941. Many pilots from the region received flight instruction at the Batesville Regional Airport.
A popular service station, general store, and restaurant called the Airport Café operated with the airport in the 1950s and 1960s, owned and operated by the W. J. McDuffee family. Country music legend Jim Reeves and his piano player, road manager, and close friend Dean Manuel of Jamestown (Independence County) stopped to eat at the restaurant just before taking off, with Reeves as pilot, on their way back to Nashville, Tennessee, on July 31, 1964. Reeves had just closed a land deal on what is today Jamestown Loop, the old George Parks place. The single-engine private plane left the Batesville Regional Airport and crashed ten miles south of Nashville, killing both men.
The airport was used by Rimrock Records in Concord (Cleburne County) to transport such luminaries as Elvis Presley, who did some dubbing in the studio in the early 1970s. Ike and Tina Turner also flew in secretly at night during the early part of the 1970s to record at Rimrock. (Zyndall Raney, who was in charge of the celebrity flights, wanted to keep the press at bay and also feared that trouble would arise in the county if it was known that African Americans were using the Rimrock Studio.) Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, bought Rimrock in 1974. Raney continued to use the Batesville airport to fly to and from Memphis as a talent scout and member of the Stax staff.
On July 17, 2012, U.S. Senators Mark Pryor and John Boozman joined Congressman Rick Crawford to announce that the Batesville Regional Airport would receive a $2,324,472 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for improvements and new construction projects at their facility. Funding was partly used to extend the runway safety area and bring the runway into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) design standards and to install perimeter fencing for security. The airport has survived several severe weather hits, most notably a storm that struck on September 7, 2012, and destroyed three hangars.
In 2014, the airport was caught in a controversial attempt by Batesville to annex the entire Southside area. In response, Southside filed incorporation papers for their community, including a large portion of the Batesville airport. The City of Batesville prepared to file suit to keep this from happening but decided to drop the suit in February 2015 because of the costs involved.
The Batesville Regional Airport, which offers a car rental service, continues to increase its operations, and a five-year projection shows an annual growth rate of one percent. Several hangar units were added in 2006. Renovations to the terminal were completed in August 2016, adding 300 square feet and two new entrances.
For additional information:Batesville Regional Airport. http://www.batesvilleregionalairport.com/default.htm (accessed November 17, 2015).
Brosius, Jeanni. “Zyndall Raney.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Three Rivers Edition, October 16, 2011. Online at http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2011/oct/16/zyndall-raney-20111016/?threerivers (accessed November 17, 2015).
National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) Report. Federal Aviation Administration. http://www.faa.gov/airports/planning_capacity/npias/reports/ (accessed November 17, 2015).
Kenneth Rorie Van Buren, Arkansas
Last Updated 8/22/2016
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