Texas State Technical College’s airport is getting $3 million in runway improvements as part of an extensive overhaul to improve safety and ease of use for industry and private companies that utilize the facility.
The upgrades are being funded by a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, which this year has $60 million to award for airport improvements through its Aviation Facilities Grant Program.
The work includes renovating and repainting two concrete runways and about 10 taxiways, removing rubber debris left by planes at touchdown, and installing a new color-coded visual glide slope lighting system to assist pilots in landing.
TxDOT will cover 90 percent of the costs, while TSTC is responsible for 10 percent.
Maintaining the runways will help TSTC continue to draw regular airplane traffic to the region, said Kevin Dorton, TSTC’s vice president of administrative services and the airport’s manager.
The longer runway extends for 8,600 feet, while the other is 6,900 feet long.
“The (longer runway) is bigger than anything they can handle at Waco Regional Airport,” Dorton said.
“It can handle the biggest aircrafts in the world, so it’s good that we have it, because that opens up avenues to our community that we wouldn’t ordinarily have.”
Jim Rowland, the airport’s director and head of TSTC’s Aerospace Division, said TSTC’s flight training program accounts for half of the airport’s usage, while industry partners like L-3 Communications, military and government entities and private companies are the other primary users.
Rowland said Gov. Rick Perry flew into the airport before he traveled to West to view the aftermath of the April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co.
A C-17 military transport aircraft landed with a fleet of vehicles accompanying President Barack Obama for the April 25 memorial honoring the first responders killed in the
Dorton said military planes fly in daily from places like Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene or Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio for training exercises. L-3 also may do some work with military or commercial planes during the week, he said.
Rowland said the renovation project will be the airport’s first major overhaul in at least 15 years.
Typically, TSTC does as much as $100,000 in improvements to the runway and taxiways each year, such as spot-fixing cracks. TxDOT usually provides annual grants to cover half of those maintenance expenses.
“It’s like a road, you can patch it only so many times before they have to come in and do a new overlay, and this is the same thing,” Rowland said. “It’s like putting little Band-Aids on it, and so now we’re coming in and doing some major rehabilitation.”
Dorton said the college could not afford to take on the more expensive runway repairs and airport improvements without aid from the state. TSTC received a $2.1 million grant from TxDOT in 2011 to build a new flight control tower at the facility.
The work will take three to four years to complete. Engineering firm Garver is developing plans to tackle the improvements in phases so flights and training can continue with minimum interruption.
“With our runway being as long as it is, we can do the project in thirds, so two-thirds of it can still accommodate any of our flights,” Dorton said. “We can revert over to the smaller runway, so at no time will our airport be down.”