Since he joined the City Council, Atkins has cut all business ties to the airport but has nevertheless made its success a centerpiece of his tenure, he said.
Thanks in part to his advocacy, tens of millions of dollars have poured into Dallas Executive. City aviation officials say private and public investments over the last decade total more than $60 million.
In 2006, the city dedicated a new terminal building. In 2007, it was a new traffic control tower. In the years since, the airport has gotten a new restaurant, better lighting and signs, and more attractive headquarters for the two private fixed-base operators, Ambassador Jet Center and Jet Center of Dallas, that run corporate jets in and out of Dallas Executive.
But nothing compares to the runway project.
The city and state transportation officials are teaming up to rebuild Dallas Executive’s two runways, with the state paying 90 percent of the cost. One of the runways will be extended to 7,000 feet, a strip capable of handling the larger, heavier planes favored by many corporations.
The longer runway at Dallas Executive today measures 6,400 feet.
“Seven thousand is apparently the magic number,” said Jan Collmer, a pilot and former chairman of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport board.
Addison Airport and Collin County Regional Airport in McKinney, the two primary competitors to Dallas Executive, have runways of 7,000 feet or longer. And both have enjoyed the kind of success that Dallas Executive backers dream of.
But that isn’t the whole story. No matter how long the runways are or how nice the facilities might be, Dallas Executive has a geography problem.
“It’s not the airport. It’s the distribution of businesses in the Dallas region,” Collmer said. “It’s highly unbalanced to the north. That’s just the way it is.”
Dallas Executive’s backers have been trying for a long time to convince businesses that the short trip south is worth it. But it’s been a hard sell. The airport is just minutes from downtown, but it’s in an area that is underdeveloped at best and shabby at worst.
Atkins said Dallas Executive can help change that. But that hope has been unrealized for years.
George Moussa, president of Ambassador Jet Center, said the new runway might be the difference.
“It’s a real game-changer. … It’s going to open up the field to a lot more traffic that would otherwise not be able to access the airport,” he said.
It won’t be painless. Construction will limit airport operations until its completion in 2016. Atkins and city officials have been working with Dallas Executive tenants to prepare for the slow times ahead.
Moussa said the wait will be worthwhile.
And when the Wright Amendment is lifted at Love Field next year, ending decades of limits on flights by big airlines, that could push smaller aircraft out of Love and into Executive’s waiting arms. Or so Moussa hopes.
“Dallas Executive is Dallas’ best-kept secret. It offers tremendous value for a 10-minute longer drive,” he said. “Some people will do it, and some people just don’t. “