In the mid-2000s, local entrepreneur Ron Henriksen set out to fix what he saw as a gap in the Greater Austin area’s transportation infrastructure.
At the time, Austin was one of the largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. without a secondary airport to take pressure off its main aviation hub, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. That changed in 2011, however, when Henriksen invested $33 million to launch the Austin Executive Airport.
The executive airport, which is located off SH 130 in Pflugerville, continues to grow and meet the demand of the market, as about 2,000 aircraft come through the airport each month, AEA Executive Director Andrew Perry said.
Airports that do not have scheduled, commercial airline flights and instead service smaller, private aircraft such as business jets are often called executive airports. Regulators call them reliever airports because they reduce the amount of small aircraft traffic that needs to flow through a city’s main airport.
The AEA fills a gap left by the closing of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport and the similarly named Austin Executive Airpark in the 1990s, AEA officials said.
Perry said the airport has been a boon to the area’s economy. As large corporations continue to relocate to Austin and its suburbs, the presence of an aviation facility that caters to corporate jets makes it more attractive to do business in the region. The presence of an executive airport is a key infrastructural piece when companies consider where to locate their headquarters, he said.
According to Shoreline Aviation, a Massachusetts-based aviation services firm, such facilities allow executives to travel quickly and efficiently, saving the company time and money over the long term. Because AEA is classified as a reliever airport, it does not have Transportation Security Administration agents on-site and is not required to. Also, private charter companies, unlike airlines, can arrange a flight so that it revolves around their passengers’ schedules. Smaller private jets can also choose their own routes and land at a wider array of airports, allowing for timelier trips.
When the AEA opened it had a 27,500-square-foot terminal building, a 6,025-foot-long runway and taxiway, a 29,000-square-foot corporate hangar and a 140-foot-by-85-foot arrival canopy where passengers disembark from planes.
Last year the airport added 5 acres of concrete for its nine hangars. The expansion was largely due to the increased activity the airport saw during the two weekends in which the Formula One United States Grand Prix took place in southeast Travis County in 2012 and 2013, Perry said. Formula One, also known as F1, is an international automobile racing series.
On the weekend of the first race in 2012, Perry said the airport serviced more than twice the number of airplanes it accommodates on a typical weekend.
“It’s definitely been an increase in business for that weekend,” he said. “And it’s definitely our busiest weekend we’ve ever had.”
Perry said the airport is well-suited to meet the current demand. The AEA constantly evaluates whether it should upgrade its facility, he said.
Perry said the airport could be seen as more than bricks and mortar. It is also a spark for the local economy.
“The interesting thing about airports [is that] for us, it’s a business. To the community, it’s an economic development tool,” he said. “It’s just like the highway, the toll road and the I-35s of the world that [have] been able to move people, goods and services.”
6012 Aviation Drive, Pflugerville, 512-247-7678, www.austinexecutiveairport.com