The Grand Parkway is paving a path of prosperity straight to David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport, which could bring wealth to the rest of the region, according to the airport’s new general manager Antonio Merritt.
While it’s currently the third largest airport in the Houston area – with more than 275,000 aircraft movements per year – the airport’s owner, Jag Gill, has even bigger plans.
Last year, he hired a new general manager to take advantage of growth in the region stemming from the new ExxonMobil campus near The Woodlands. Already, the airport has undergone more than $60 million in investments, said Merritt.
Hooks Airport marks Merritt’s fourth airport to revamp. Now, Merritt is implementing a business plan that includes upgrading security gates and cameras and renovating old hangars – all to attract the mainstay of private airports – corporate jets.
The plan is to refurbish 10-15 large hangars for corporate jets, making more room for high-end clients, he said. Currently, the airport has about two helicopter operations, 200 hangars for rent and 50 private ones.
“It’s going to have an economic impact for the airport because of the business people traveling back and forth,” he said. “We’ll pick up business from their vendors and board members when they fly in on private jets.”
Other projects include adding a customs department to take advantage of international flights from Mexico to The Woodlands, he said.
The 680-acre airport currently contains three runways, a 7,000 foot one for corporate flights, a 3,900 foot one for the flight schools and a 2,600 foot water runway, one of the only ones in Texas, said Merritt. The airport also has six flight schools, a seven-day a week restaurant, 12 minute flight turnarounds and 24 hour accessibility for pilots.
Merritt’s business plan also hinges on transportation improvements in the area. The 12.1-mile segment from SH 249 to IH 45, scheduled for completion in 2015, will pass the airport’s entrance at Boudreaux and Stuebner Airline Road. In addition, Boudreaux Road will be expanded to six lanes and Stuebner Airline to five, shortening travel time to The Woodlands, Tomball and other portions of northwest Houston.
Once finished, The Woodlands and ExxonMobil will only be 10 minutes away, making the airport first choice among corporate executives, said Merritt. Bush Intercontinental is about 25-30 minutes from The Woodlands.
“Since we’re the closest airport to The Woodlands, we have a lot of clients in The Woodlands,” said Merritt.
Baker Hughes is also building a new 100-acre training facility in Tomball off 2920 near the airport, which will also attract increased traffic, he said. With all the corporations in the area, the airport is seeing a return on their investments, said Merritt.
“We have people buying more jets on the field,” he said. “We’ve probably seen an increase of 10 jets within the last year. That’s big time when people are buying jets.”
So far, more than 65 businesses use Hooks for corporate flights, including local companies Baker Hughes, Noble Energy and H-E-B.
“Parts of Champion forest, FM 1960, Tomball, Highway 249, The Woodlands and Spring is going to see huge growth,” said Merritt. The housing market, stores, movie theaters and restaurants will get a boost, he said.
Recently, the airport has begun working with the Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce, The Tomball Chamber of Commerce and The Woodlands Chamber to manage the growth.
Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Tomball Greater Area Chamber of Commerce, said the airport has always been a boon to northwest Houston’s economy, but will benefit the area even more with the transportation development.
“There are lots of corporate jets at Hooks and, on corporate jets, are corporate CEOs and that has brought in possible attention to Tomball,” he said. “The ExxonMobil campus at I-45 and Spring Stuebner is going to have a ripple effect from Kingwood to Waller and the main access is going to be the Grand Parkway.”
The airport has also been visited by George Bush Sr., Gov. Rick Perry and Congressman Michael McCaul.
According to Hillegeist, the airport is all part of the plan to bring growth to the northwest.
“Things like that just don’t happen. It takes time and leadership from our state government from our Harris County precinct commissioners, the city council and all that working together for years to make sure we have infrastructure, those things that mean a lot to corporations,” he said.
Corporations want to be near a private airport, he said. With all the corporations relocating to the area, northwest Houston is going to be a major hub, he said.
“Hooks brings the world to Tomball and Tomball to the world,” he said. “Hooks Airport is primed to grow and benefit from these companies as well as benefit our local economy.”