How One Joint-Use Came Together

Fort Hood and Killeen, TX combine efforts to create a joint-use airport, billed as the first airport built from the ground up post-9/11.

Killeen (TX) Airport had outgrown its terminal and runway. At the same time, Robert Gray Army Airfield had sufficient space. A partnership was born that has resulted in the first "post-9/11 airport terminal" constructed from the ground up. The new Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport represents the first aviation facility to incorporate state-of-the-art security, baggage handling, and more. The airport is blending military use (highly sensitive, highly secure) with civilian use (focused on business and pleasure).

Municipal airports built in the 1950s and 1960s share some common issues: the runways are too short for regional commuter jets and a difficulty accommodating post-9/11 security requirements. Only significant renovation can overcome these challenges, but often this isn't an option. Even if land is available to extend runways and enlarge terminals, surrounding neighborhoods often fight expansion.

Municipalities located near military bases have discovered another option: joint-use. Communities like Killeen, TX are working out partnerships with local military installations to share existing airfield space. Such joint-use agreements involve the lease of land to the municipality to form the civilian airport. In this case, Fort Hood allowed use of 75 acres in the southeast corner of its airfield.

Killeen shares its new airport at Robert Gray Army Airfield with Fort Hood, the largest active duty armored post in the U.S. armed services. The original municipal airport had outgrown its terminal and runway, which at 5,500 feet couldn't accommodate RJs. Killeen faced a loss of commercial airline service and declining economic opportunities, but the partnership with Fort Hood opened up new possibilities.

Of course, first, the military had to be on board. Then, coordination and consultation with numerous governmental agencies is necessary. As with the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport, design considerations also come into play. The municipality built everything for the new airport except the runway. Finally, any airport today must consider new security requirements.

Understanding the problem

One major trend affecting municipal airports is the move from turboprops to RJs. Since 9/11, regional jets and low-cost carriers have been the only growth story in U.S. domestic aircraft fleets. Large jets have dropped from about 58 percent to about 52 percent of U.S. flights (1999-2004), and turboprops have dropped from about 34 percent to less than 20 percent. RJs, however, grew from 8 percent to 32 percent during the same period, according to BACK Aviation Solutions, a commercial aviation research firm.

Nonstop routes served by turboprops have dropped by 52 percent in the past decade. The result of this trend is declining commercial service to municipal airports, many of which, like Killeen, have short runways.

A number of trends have combined to create this perfect storm for municipal airports, according to John Weber, vice president of worldwide sales and services for BACK Aviation, including the following:

  • The impact of terrorism and the increased journey time required for security checks;

  • Changes in security requirements that make it more expensive to operate;

  • The rise of low-cost (jets-only) carriers, which rarely find municipal airports cost effective;

  • The high fares demanded by legacy carriers for small aircraft services from municipal airports.

Project management; coordination

The first step in joint-use projects is consensus-building. These projects have many players, each with their own requirements and rules of engagement, that need to be involved and supportive.

The cooperation of the military is, of course, essential. When the City of Killeen first considered relocating to Robert Gray Army Airfield and sharing it with Fort Hood, leadership on the base vetoed the project. Killeen had few other options and faced decreasing airline service.

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