Yesterday Meets Today

SAN ANTONIO — Stinson Municipal Airport here is billed as the second oldest general aviation airport in the U.S. The City of San Antonio, which operates the historic airfield along with San Antonio International, is in the midst of a drive to revitalize Stinson, with the financial assistance of TXDOT and FAA. The first orders of business: reconstructing a legitimate business-class runway and refurbishing an array of structures that were built in the early days of aviation. The ultimate goal is to create a corporate reliever for a region that is short on such facilities.

Explains Stinson manager Tim O’Krongley, A.A.E., “One of the things that came out in the recently updated master plan was a need for a 5,000-foot runway and for more admin/office space. When all of these buildings were built along Mission row here, with the exception of T-hangars that were built in 2002, the newest building was put up in 1941. All these buildings range from 1925 to 1941. It’s kind of unique to see that many examples of a historic facility still together and preserved.

“When they built these facilities back in the ‘30s and ‘40s, they really didn’t have the intent of flight schools today or the office and FBO (fixed base operation) accommodations as we know them today. They were built just to have hangars. It came out pretty strong in the master plan that we need to address those facilities.”

Deep Roots

Much of the history of the airport is rooted in the history of the Stinson family, led primarily by Katherine Stinson, who was the fourth woman to be licensed to fly in the U.S. Stinson Municipal, located some five miles south of downtown, was created around 1915 and in time became the city’s commercial facility, served through the 1930s and 1940s by Texas Air Transport (later American Airlines), Braniff, and Eastern. It wasn’t until the end of World War II that the air carriers moved to what is today San Antonio International, north of the city.

The airport has crosswind runways, with the longest being 4,835 feet. “When they started thinking about building this airport in 1915,” explains O’Krongley, “the thought of 5,000 feet never crossed their minds.”

The challenge for officials looking to recreate Stinson is maintaining the history of the airfield while bringing it into the modern era of aviation.

“Since all of those hangars are historic,” says O’Krongley, “we’re not allowed to tear them down. What we have to do is basically strip them down to the bare metal and refurbish them. We only have a couple left to do. We’re in the Mission Historic District, which is under the National Parks Service.

“We do have this unique line of historic structures all in one area, and we’ve chosen to keep it that way. We have enough property on other parts of the airport that we can expand.”

Investing Millions

The new master plan estimates that mid-term investment in Stinson Municipal could reach $16.7 million, and long term that figure could reach as much as $56 million. With the historic buildings nearing completion of refurbishment activities, the attention has turned to runway and taxiway expansion and reconstruction of the historic terminal.

Explains O’Krongley, “We’ve ventured off on two big capital programs. One of them involves the runway [9/27] extension, which we’re in the midst of the environmental assessment on. Associated with that will be all new signage; lighting; a structural overlay to the same runway; and, some parallel taxiways to open up about 30 acres of land that we now own but which doesn’t have airfield access. We’ll capture that with the parallel taxiways.”

In all, O’Krongley estimates the airfield has some 80 acres of developable land. Beyond that, development is limited by an adjacent historic cemetery, a creek, and residential areas.

The revitalization of Stinson Municipal comes at a time when the south side of San Antonio is experiencing significant economic growth and investment, according to O’Krongley, perhaps best evidenced by the creation of a new Toyota plant nearby.

“We’re having businesses now coming to the south side that utilize corporate aviation,” he says, “like the Toyota facility. They have suppliers fly in here a lot, and we see quite a few developers. And, overall, we’re getting new businesses into the San Antonio area that use corporate aviation more.”

O’Krongley puts that the near-term development costs at some $5 million for the runway/taxiway initiative and another $4 million for expanding and refurbishing the terminal building. When completed, the terminal will grow from 7,000 square feet in size to some 25,000 square feet, and will house airport administration, a corporate conference center, flight planning, and line service capabilities for the airport’s two FBOs — Check-Six Aviation and San Antonio Aviation, Inc. It will also host two rental car counters, an office for the Texas Air Museum, and classrooms for a local community college’s flight training curriculum.

Says O’Krongley, “We’ll have an executive suite concept for aircraft sales, insurance, or whatever. Basically, what we have in the form of letters of intent, 85 percent is already pre-leased or spoken for.”

Stinson Municipal has some 132 based aircraft, according to O’Krongley, and has 120,000 annual operations [down from the peak of 180,000 in 2003]. Records show the airport moved some 200,000 gallons of fuel in 2005.

O’Kronley says since he arrived seven years ago the airport has been on a growth trend even prior to the redevelopment initiative. He says that when he arrived the facilities were about 55 percent vacant; today they are 100 percent full and there’s a waiting list for hangar storage. Recent T-hangar development has been by private enterprise.

“That gets into the third area of development, which is private,” says O’Kronley. “We went out with an RFP [request for proposals] to get a third party out here to develop more T-hangars. We’re working with them right now and that is going to bring about eight corporate hangars and 75 T-hangars in three phases of 25 hangars each.”