By Bryan Kirk
With the construction of a $2.7 million airport terminal under way, leaders in Brazoria County are beginning to market the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport as a viable economic development tool.
Jeff Bilyeu, aviation director, said the future of the regional airport is looking pretty bright.
In early November, Bilyeu attended the National Business Aviation Association convention in Orlando, Fla., with representatives from the Economic Development Alliance for Brazoria County.
Bilyeu said they made dozens of connections with potential businesses that approached them at their booth and inquired about expanding or relocating to their airport.
“There was great activity during that show, and we got some really good contacts,” he said.
So far, one Florida-based aircraft company has expressed an interest in expanding its business to the Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport, and is planning a visit to the area before the end of January.
“He anticipates an expansion of his business. He feels like the Houston and Dallas markets are very favorable to him,” Bilyeu said. “His next step is to look at a location in this area.”
The airport, which has long been home to big named companies, such as Dow Chemical, which has aircraft based at the site, has been in the midst of a transformation.
In 2010, the county completed a 7,000-foot runway at a cost of $10 million, and in June, county commissioners voted 3-1 to construct the new terminal.
In September, the county broke ground on the 11,000-square-foot terminal, paving the way for Teal Construction to pour the slab and begin erecting steel on the terminal that should be completed by the summer.
Meanwhile, local leaders are gearing up for what they hope is an infusion of new business.
Debbie Pennington, vice-president of operations for the Economic Development Alliance, who also attended the conference, made a number of connections with individual pilots, as well as small and mid-sized aircraft companies that could be looking for a new home.
“It was everything from the individual, to a company with close to 100 employees,” she said. “We had a lot of different companies who showed interest that we will be following up with.”
Robert Worley, president and CEO for the Economic Development Alliance, said he is excited to see the progress at the airport, and the economic development potential it could mean to Brazoria County.
“The aviation industry has pretty much rebounded from the recession, and most of the regional or national level aircraft, and aircraft component industries are busy and looking to expand,” Worley said.
However, the challenge is a lack of infrastructure at the airport. The airport draws water from nearby wells and utilizes a septic system, instead of a sewer system.
“You have to have appropriate water, sewer, zoning, electricity and telecommunications, so we are going to have to get busy and upgrade the infrastructure at the airport,” Worley said. “I don’t think this is anything we can’t do.”
Despite the lack of infrastructure, aircraft businesses are still looking at the regional airport as a viable and attractive destination.
Some of those smaller companies can reasonably relocate to the airport and still be efficient, Worley said.
However, the infrastructure will have to be available to larger and more sophisticated operations, such as aircraft manufacturers that employ hundreds of personnel.
“We have already started engineering studies to best determine where to bring the infrastructure from,” he said.
Worley said having all of the infrastructure improvements implemented and operational at the airport by 2014 is not only optimistic, but possible, and will be enough to attract those major companies.
“As soon as we can prime the pump with smaller successes, and show to our local decision makers that the airport is truly viable then it will be time to make the big step,” Worley said.
Top reliever airports
The Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport is considered among the top reliever airports in the Regional Aviation System Plan. Twenty-six public use airports serve general aviation in the Houston-Galveston region.
Reliever airports are designed to relieve congestion at major airports, when they are at 60 percent of their capacity.
Bilyeu serves on the Regional Aviation System Plan steering committee, which he said includes many benefits.
“There is only a certain amount air space and a certain amount of operations that can occur at these larger airports,” Bilyeu said. “As they get busier, our type of airport is able to take on an increased role by providing an option to air traffic.”
Support for Hobby
Texas Gulf Coast Regional provides support to Hobby and relieves congestion from mid-sized and smaller aircraft, and with Hobby moving toward more international flights, it is likely to get busier.
Keith Garber, a retired Air Force pilot who serves as the chief transportation planner for the Houston-Galveston Regional Council, said those 26 system airports are expected to grow from 1.9 million operations and 2,938 based aircraft in 2008 to more than 2.4 million operations and 3,839 based aircraft in 2030.
The RASP includes airport planned improvements with a total cost of $2.28 billion over the next 20 years.
“We’ve seen investment in these facilities,” Garber said. “These will be valuable facilities for a long time.”