For Austin, A First-Class Reliever

Ron Henriksen built the Houston Executive Airport from scratch; now he’s applying what he learned in the Texas capital

AUSTIN, TX — In the April 2008 edition of airport business, we featured Ron Henriksen, a self-made millionaire and corporate pilot who decided to invest his millions into his professional and personal love — aviation. At that time, he was just finishing up his creation of the Houston Executive Airport in Brookshire, on the far western outreach of the nation’s fourth largest city.

At that time we wrote, “At college at Sam Houston State in Huntsville north of the nation’s fourth largest city, Ron Henriksen decided he wanted to be a pilot — corporate or airline. He wound up making a fortune in the telecom business, but never lost his roots in aviation. He’s decided to invest in the industry he loves, without a defined return on investment. To leave his mark, or in his words make his contribution, he built the Houston Executive Airport some 35 miles west of downtown. His success there led general aviation interests in the state capital, Austin, to seek him out for relief to their plight — a lack of adequate facilities since the opening of Austin-Bergstrom International, which led to displacement of hundreds of GA aircraft with the closure of the previous commercial airport, Mueller. He’s now on airport number two — a different airport, a different challenge.”

At that time, he had purchased the remnants of a once-vibrant small general aviation airport, known as Bird’s Nest Airport, located some 15 miles northeast of downtown Austin.

Central to this discussion is the fact that while GA aircraft were being dispersed from the former Mueller airport, the city was also shutting down the former Austin Executive Airport, just north of the city, to accommodate the expansion of Dell computers — an economic success.

That joint closure led to the displacement of several hundred based aircraft away from the city core, if for no other reason than the high costs associated with basing at the new Austin Bergstrom International. Before opening the converted Air Force base, the city had constructed an additional commercial runway, adding to the rates and charges cost of doing business there.

Since acquiring Bird’s Nest, Henriksen has acquired adjacent properties, realigned and expanded the runway, and is now in the process of building a first-class business aviation hangar/terminal complex along with associated T-hangars and sunshade facilities.

About the potential for the new Austin Executive when finished, Jim Craig, the airport manager and a long-time local professional with regional FBOs comments, “I’d say I’m bullish. They’ve needed a second airport ever since they got rid of the two good airports they had. They could easily have utilized Mueller as a down-sized downtown airport, but politics got into it and it went away. The Dell facility took out the other one.”

The new Austin Executive is slated to open in April, with a grand opening scheduled for May.

The same, but different

While much of what Henriksen is creating in Austin parallels what he built in Houston, there are differences. In Houston he built an airport from the ground up, and faced local opposition, next to a city renowned for its lack of zoning regulations. The concept of having a local airport in Brookshire was not immediately embraced.

Austin offers a different template. This is a high-tech city that prides itself as being a leader in the environmental movement and which takes political activism to the extreme. While the airport actually lies within the city limits of nearby Manor, it complies with Austin regulations, due to Texas law.

Henriksen admits that he expected more push-back from local politicians. He relates, “There really has not been, and I suspect one of the reasons that there has been almost no political pushback is that this airport has been here for 40 years. So, it’s no surprise to the neighbors or anyone else that it’s here. It was very busy back in the ‘70s. It was very active; there were several hundred aircraft based here. A friend of mine who is a captain for Southwest Airlines did a lot of flight training out here.

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