Hondo airport seeing first of several upgrades

HONDO -- Two new fuel tanks at the Hondo Municipal Airport mark the first of more than $9 million in upgrades that officials hope will turn the former military airstrip into a bustling commercial hub.

Sales of aircraft fuel are slated to begin this week from the 12,000-gallon tanks, which, like most of the improvements planned in the next three years, were installed with state and federal grant funds.

"The fuel is a major plus," said Patrick Corrigan, who owns a company that refurbishes jets, one of four airport businesses. "Everybody passed Hondo over in the past because they couldn't get fuel here."

Design work should soon begin on a 3,800-square-foot terminal building, extending and reconstructing the largest of five runways, and adding taxiways, lighting and a precision approach instrument system.

Tim Fousse, hired a year ago as the city's first full-time airport manager, said replacing his shack-like office with a terminal with restrooms, weather data and a lounge should boost patronage. The airport logs about 25,000 departures and landings annually.

Beyond the tarmac's edge, city leaders see big development potential in land that's now vacant or leased by the city to farmers.

The 3,600-acre site housed the Army Air Forces starting in 1942. It was deeded to the city by the federal government in 1948.

"We're very pleased that we're finally able to waken this sleeping dog that's been out there for years ... and turn it into a developer of jobs for our community," said Mayor Jim Danner, adding that most improvements will be paid with Texas Department of Transportation grants.

Besides providing grant matches that could top $1.3 million, the City Council has included $250,000 in the new city budget to extend water and sewer lines to a 1,400-acre industrial park site at the airport.

Rapid growth in Medina County and the city's proactive planning for its airstrip worked in its favor when seeking the grants, said Karon Wiedemann, director of grant management for TxDOT's aviation division.

The grants for the fuel tanks and terminal are final, she said, while state transportation commissioners are slated to vote Sept. 27 on a $7.7 million grant for other upgrades.

The airport's proximity to U.S. 90 and railroad tracks are seen as selling points, even for companies without aviation needs. City Manager Bob Herrera cited South Texas Liquid Terminal, which built a railroad spur and distribution center on 26 airport acres a year ago after relocating from San Antonio.

"They're in the process of almost doubling their site," he said, predicting that airport-related growth could mean 300 new local jobs by 2015.