The Fort Smith Regional Airport Commission has a new member who will help oversee development.
Eric Pendergrass, a Fort Smith attorney, started his term as commissioner on July 1. He joins six others in oversight of the airport that is home to Ebbing Air National Guard Base and several aerospace businesses. The base was named in June as the preferred site of a multi-national jet fighter training facility.
While Pendergrass starts his first term as a commissioner, Kevin Ridgley was also reappointed for a second term. Pendergrass fills the seat left by Dr. Justin Voris, who has served on the commission since 2014.
The airport commissioners are appointed by the mayor of Fort Smith and confirmed by a three-fourths vote of the Fort Smith Board of Directors for five-year terms.
Since 2006, Pendergrass has lived in Fort Smith with his wife, Meighan. They have a 6-year-old daughter. Originally from Peterpender, between Charleston and Ozark, Pendergrass graduated from Charleston High School and attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He received three degrees — a bachelor’s degree in agriculture with a minor in business economics, a juris doctor and a masters of law in agricultural and food law.
Currently, Pendergrass serves as vice president and general counsel of Burford Distributing Inc. and of-counsel to Smith, Cohen & Horan, PLC. Burford Distributing is in Fort Smith, a distributor of wine, beer and distilled spirits. Smith, Cohen & Horan, PLC is in Fort Smith and helps businesses and individuals in Arkansas and Oklahoma with litigation, private client, and commercial representation services.
Being a Fort Smith resident will help Pendergrass as he serves his term.
“Not only do I understand the struggles of operating a business like the airport, but I can empathize with what people and businesses are looking for as they travel to their destinations,” Pendergrass said. “I am also deeply engrained in this community, from the perspective that my business and family are here. I can relate to the interest of Fort Smith and River Valley residents and how they are impacted by air travel to and from our community.”
Pendergrass hopes the board can turn Fort Smith into a destination for commercial, private, and military travel. He does see the runway extension as a way of making Fort Smith a more viable option.
Pendergrass believes the airport needs more airlines to improve travel for the general public. Having airlines compete for business will be a good thing for travelers.
Commissioner Kevin Ridgley
Since 2003, Ridgley has lived in Arkansas. He is from Arlington, Texas and got his undergraduate degree from Baylor. After undergrad, Ridgley received his juris doctor from the University of Arkansas. Currently, Ridgley is the associate general counsel for ArcBest, a freight and logistics service provider located on 8401 McClure Drive.
Ridgley is proud of the work the airport has done and hopes to see that growth continue. He believes the addition of the runway is a step in the right direction.
“I would hope that [runway extension] could help spur on some additional growth for on field, secondary industries or companies coming here to help support those missions as well,” Ridgley said. “The vision is a sustained growth of the airport, sustained growth of employment and at the same time as the commercial [flights] as American Airlines, Delta, their routes and travel and that business, starts growing again. Hopefully, get another airline here, get some more routes in here.”
Terms for Ridgley and Pendergrass will run through June 30, 2026.
Airport Commission members also include Jan Nordin, appointed in March 2009; Mac McGhee, appointed in August 2011; Dr. James E. Kelly III, appointed in May 2012; Robert J. Hawkins, appointed in June 2015; and Gary Grimes Sr., appointed in June 2019.