Arlington airport sets sights on next 10 years

04/04/2014 12:32 PM

04/04/2014 12:33 PM

From the bird’s-eye view in the Arlington Municipal Airport’s control tower, the west parallel taxiway — a smooth ribbon of pavement described by the airport manager as the “crown jewel” of a 2008 master plan — stretches across the horizon.

With that and other projects, including the building of a new terminal, more parking places for planes and an approach lighting system that helps pilots land in limited visibility, complete, airport manager Karen VanWinkle is ready to tackle a new to-do list.

The airport recently received two grants from the Texas Department of Transportation that will help her do that. A $250,000 grant announced March 27 will pay to repair seals between the concrete panels that comprise the taxiway on the airport’s east side. A second grant, approved in December for $200,000, is more significant because it will fund an update of the master plan — known as a development plan — to guide airport growth over the next 10 years.

“Really, the focus of the plan will be our west side,” VanWinkle said. “That’s important because that’s all the land we have left.”

The airport, which logs 80,000 to 90,000 takeoffs and landings a year, generates $92 million for the local economy and 560 jobs, according to a 2010 study by the University of North Texas’s Center for Economic Development and Research.

During a tour of the facility last week, VanWinkle pointed out cargo jets that carry materials for General Motors, aircraft that had flown in for the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day game and Cessnas sold by Van Bortel Aircraft, the world’s largest Cessna dealer, which has its corporate offices at the airport. Overhead buzzed the AW609, a tilt-rotor aircraft being developed by AgustaWestland Tilt-Rotor Co., which is also based at the airport.

The airport has gotten a boost due to the opening of AT&T Stadium and the increase in production at Arlington’s General Motors plant, Councilman Jimmy Bennett said. Bennett, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said the importance of the airport has grown as it has transitioned from a facility that catered to smaller planes to one that accommodates corporate jets and cargo planes.

“As for my satisfaction on what we’ve done at the airport, I could not be happier,” Bennett said. “I’m as excited as I can remember as to what we’ve done and where we can go.”

The Great Recession took a toll on the facility. Takeoffs and landings, including recreational flights, are down from about 150,000 in 2007, VanWinkle said. A flight school based at the airport shut down in recent years and consolidated its operation at Fort Worth Meacham Airport, she said. A more recent challenge occurred last year when the air traffic control tower was slated to be closed because of federal spending cuts. That did not happen, but its future remains uncertain.

“Loss of funding for control tower services would significantly impact our airport’s operations and the safety of aircraft across the Metroplex,” VanWinkle said.

Still, city officials are upbeat about the airport’s future. Now that the west taxiway is complete and the city is preparing to extend Center Street south of Interstate 20 to Bardin Road via a new bridge over I-20, the west side will be accessible by planes and vehicles, VanWinkle said. That will open 50 to 80 acres that are mostly undeveloped except for a Bell Helicopter research and development facility.

“The west taxiway was really the crown jewel of the 2008 master plan,” VanWinkle said. “Without a west taxiway, the west side was never going to develop.”

She expects that it will be used primarily by aviation businesses, which would mirror development on the east. Larger hangar spaces, aviation maintenance facilities and businesses related to executive and jet aircraft are likely, said VanWinkle.

Councilman Robert Rivera, whose southeast Arlington district includes the airport, said he recognizes the importance of airport growth but must balance that with the concerns of the residential community that has grown up around the facility. There are always growing pains, such as complaints about aircraft noise, associated with airport development, and Rivera expects the new plan to take those into consideration.

“It’s a challenge that comes with a growing community and a growing airport,” he said.

One possible problem area is extending the airport’s 6,000-foot runway. That project was included in the 2008 master plan but was not done because of problems including expense and safety issues due to the proximity of I-20 and because it wouldn’t significantly increase the types of aircraft that use the airport, VanWinkle said. Although the runway extension probably will be re-examined in the new plan, the cons make it a tough sell, VanWinkle said.

Development of the west side, redevelopment of facilities on the east and infrastructure improvements are a bigger focus of the development plan, which will be done by Coffman Associates of Kansas City, Mo., she said. The plan is expected to be completed by the end of this year or early 2015.

“We’re really a business park with a runway,” VanWinkle said. “We’re about the economic development of the city.”

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