The Man Who Builds Airports

Ron Henriksen wanted to leave his mark; now he’s branching out, Houston to Austin

Out of a rice field
Henriksen relates that the airport site in Brookshire was not his first choice. He had attempted to build one south of the current location near Fulshear in a part of Greater Houston that is heavily residential. The experience, he says, taught him much about the politics of airports.

“First, you go to the FAA and file a notice for developing a new airport. And they do a study and look for reasons that building an airport in that location might not be a good idea. There are basically three different answers they’ll give you after the study is done. The first being, that no hazards are found at all and this is a great idea and go right ahead. The second answer is, we’ve found some objections and this is what you have to do if you want to build the airport. The third is, that location is not safe, for whatever reason.

“Most of the time you’ll get the second answer; we got the second answer. There was a list of things wrong with this location, but as a general rule this property had been rice farmed, so we had to stop farming. There was a lot of water on the land, so the drainage had to be changed. The drainage for a rice farm is different than that for an airport.

“In Fulshear, I got a lot of political pushback. All the landowners around there had the idea of selling off their property to homebuilders. They didn’t want an airport anywhere near any of this land they were going to sell for homes.

“So I sort of put that project on hold, even though I had spent about $1 million on studies, and started looking for more land. That was a learning experience.”

Much of the 2,000 acres that now encompass Houston Executive are former rice fields, which led to a significant drainage investment prior to laying down concrete. But, says Henriksen, that investment was worth it because of the tract’s location to the city.

“The most important thing is location,” he explains. “I firmly believe that an airport has to be a reasonable distance from where the people are that are going to use it.

“One of the things I was looking for here on the west side of Houston was the biggest piece of property I could get, as close in as possible. That was a balancing act. I was pretty lucky to find this piece of land.”

Once Houston Executive was operational, Henriksen had expected that would be the end of his airport building, although he admits he had toyed at looking at similar opportunities around Austin, the state capital, which had seen general aviation displaced with the opening of the new international airport, Bergstrom.

“As quickly as I got this one built I was going to go to Austin and look around and see if I could build one. One day some pilots from Austin called, and they’ve been trying to get another airport built in Austin. Evidently, they were down to one airport. For some reason, they focused on Bird’s Nest, and put together some financial projections of what it would take to buy the airport and surrounding property, and put in a runway and hangars. Their estimates on cost were pretty close — it was somewhere between $30-50 million. Based on my experience here, it was about accurate.”

Bird’s nest airport
While the plan in Houston was to build a business aviation airport, the 134-acre Bird’s Nest Airport will have a GA focus, says Henriksen. Once an active flight instruction facility, Bird’s Nest saw an outflux of aircraft through the years. When Henriksen bought it, via a corporation Bird’s Nest Aviation, Inc., there were 15 based aircraft remaining; a dirt road that is actually an easement through a neighbor’s property; and a main house that has been refurbished to serve as temporary FBO facilities. The runway has been realigned and paved since he took over last fall.

While technically Bird’s Nest is already an airport — which makes the initial paperwork less burdensome, says Henriksen — he is essentially building the airfield from scratch.

“I now have enough property to build the runway that I think Austin needs,” he explains. “If a guy has a Gulfstream V and wants ILS, he can land at Bergstrom.”

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