Keep Pushing the Envelope

For decades a quiet GA airport, Denton has been redefined, and is being redefined again

DENTON, TX — The reshaping of the Denton Airport into one that serves both business and general aviation, while serving as a major catalyst for economic development as the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex spreads north, has been the major focus for the past fives years here. According to airport manager Quentin Hix, he is confident the next five years will bring similar investment and growth on a par or exceeding that period. It’s a tall job; but what has been achieved to date by Hix and his predecessors and city hall is a transformation of an airport — with planning. The airport is now preparing to open up more acreage for development while also moving to set itself apart from city coffers.

To the GA light aircraft pilot who enjoys seeing his/her airport grow while not forgetting GA, Denton might seem to be on the right track. Says Hix, “We do serve individual general aviation pilots; have since the inception of Denton Airport in the early 1940s. But over the past six years, there has been a significant investment at this airport by the aviation industry. They’re very successful; they have very aggressive business plans. We’ve made major public infrastructure improvements to provide the level of service to keep them growing, and to attract other aviation businesses here.

“We’ll always have as an element of our operation service to individual private pilots. But the real growth and the development of the airport as an economic engine for the city is associated with our aviation industry development.”

Thus, they have a plan, which includes ongoing infrastructure improvements to not only open up new acreage for development, but to help differentiate airfield activity as well.

Explains Hix, “We’re in an excellent area because most of the area to the east of us, between the airport and the Interstate [35], is zoned industrial. To the west of us it is very sparcely developed. It will develop significantly, especially after the soft economy heats up a bit, with typical residential/commercial type development. Loop 288 will come across just to the west of us.

“We have had in place for a number of years an airport compatibility land use district. Landowners and potential developers all understand that there are restrictions on what can be built up against the airport.”

According to Hix, during the past six years some $24 million has been invested at the Denton Airport, most of it FAA money via the Texas State Block Grant program. The director estimates that today the airport’s 40-plus businesses employ some 300 employees.

The airport, operated by the city, today generates enough revenue to cover its costs, to the point that Hix has set a goal of making it financially independent as an Enterprise Fund (see sidebar). Being topographically advantaged, it also sits on natural gas wells that will play a significant role in future infrastructure development.

“The gas money goes into a restricted gas well fund that the council has established a policy of using for only one-time capital expenditures,” explains Hix. “Since these new wells came online last August — seven of the eleven — total revenues we’ve brought in are well over $5 million. They’ll continue to accumulate significantly in the first couple of years, and will continue to generate revenue into the gas well fund until at least 22 years into the future.” He emphasizes that all expenditures from the fund will be directed to the airport.

“If we invest wisely in revenue-generating development, then we’ll produce operating revenue as well as an investment fund.”

Orchestrating development
Hix, 61, relates that his experience to date puts him in a good position to oversee the near-term future of the Denton Airport. He previously worked for the City of Denton, served in city administration and was a city manager elsewhere, and later pursued his Masters of Public Administration at the University of North Texas, which sits a few miles away.

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