Airport officials prepare facility for coming of Exxon, Grand Parkway
Officials at the David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport in Tomball are paving the way for the anticipated growth expected with the expected completion of the Exxon Mobil campus in Spring and the segments F1 and F2 of the Grand Parkway in 2015.
Since 2011, Antonio Merritt, general manager at the airport, has overseen improvements such as the erection of security gates and fencing around the 680-acre airport, a task that is in the final stages.
“We have all kinds of stuff going on right now,” Merritt said. “We didn’t have security gates when I got here a year ago, and we are still wrapping the field (with fencing). This is a busy place.”
Hooks also is refurnishing a number of aircraft hangars, adding new runway lights and resurfacing both asphalt runways.
Along with the two asphalt runways, Hooks has a rare, 3,000-foot water runway on the property which is the only one of its kind in Texas, Merritt said. The water runway is basically a manmade lake that allows seaplanes or planes that are equipped with pontoons instead of wheels, to take off and land. Hooks will be ready for the expected influx of new patrons by 2015.
Although the improvements are needed, Hooks Airport, which is one of the few general aviation airports in the U.S. with an FAA tower, already is an attractive option for corporate travelers.
A general aviation airport handles flights that are not classified as military or airline.
They usually handle any type of flight from something as small as a glider or a powered parachute, to a large cargo plane.
Hooks was named the as one of the fastest-growing and one of the busiest general aviation airports in the U.S. in 2011 by Access Aviation, an aviation consulting firm.
Merritt said Hooks also is adding new aircraft hangars, which will invariably increase the number of patrons who house their corporate aircraft at Hooks.
So far, three hangars have been added to the landscape at Hooks Airport, with two more expected to completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Merritt said he is also working to bring customs inspectors to the airport, which will facilitate travelers from Mexico and Canada.
The only airports in the Greater Houston area that have customs officers are Hobby Airport, Bush Intercontinental, and Sugar Land Regional Airport in Fort Bend County.
“I believe we’re going to increase our traffic to this airport from between 25 to 45 percent,” Merritt said.
“This was a sleepy little airport, but we have a Department of Defense contract and we get all branches of the military, but getting these corporate jets flying in and out every day is also helping us.
“We have some big-name customers who fly in and out of here.”
Some of those customers include H-E-B, Chevron, Baker Hughes, Citation Oil and Gas Corp., which is based at Hooks, and All-American Aviation.
Merritt said it is a strong likelihood that Exxon Mobil will enhance the busy corporate travel hub.
“I really don’t think we have any idea the impact Exxon Mobil will have on Hooks Airport and the Tomball community,” said Tomball City Manager George Shackelford.
Exxon Mobil may be on the radar for growth in the area, but there are other businesses coming into the area. Companies such as Noble Energy, which is moving into the former Hewlett-Packard complex on Texas 249 this summer, is feeding that anticipated growth in Tomball and fostering a level of excitement at Hooks.
Baker Hughes, already a frequent patron of Hooks, is poised to break ground on the Western Hemisphere Education Center in early 2014.
“It’s exciting to see Hooks airport taking advantage of the timing of everything,” said Kelly Violette, executive director for the Tomball Economic Development Corp.
“I think they are really looking at sprucing things up and making it ready for the growth we are going to see, not only with Exxon Mobil, but Noble Energy, Baker Hughes and all the companies that are looking at relocating and will use the airport for corporate travel.”
Having Hooks within reach of Tomball is an economic advantage for the city in that it can attract new businesses to the area, Violette said.
While cities like Tomball see the economic benefits of their proximity to the airport, other communities are praising the efficiency and the amenities offered for corporate travelers.
Gil Staley, CEO of The Woodlands Economic Development Partnership, said they are not only anticipating an influx from businesses using the airport, but the completion of the Grand Parkway will lessen the commute between The Woodlands, Hooks, and the Exxon Mobil campus.
“The corporate base we have here lends itself to corporate aviation,” Staley said. “Our niche market in The Woodlands area is typically corporate headquarters, so corporate aviation facilities like Hooks are vital to our success, and with it being so close, with the completion of the Grand Parkway, this will help us with our recruitment efforts, as well as those companies who want to expand here.”