Cargo Projects Proposed for Texas' Edinburg International Airport

The 520-acre Edinburg International Airport is being touted by city leaders as a future player in the Rio Grande Valley's air cargo industry.

But work must be done before advertising and marketing can occur in luring business to the rural airfield.

"We are pretty much going to have some of the efforts geared toward attending industry and trade shows, trying to get the word out about our airport," said Ramiro Garza Jr., executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corp. "It's going to have its own Web site with things being tracked as to what is going on at the airport."

The airport is at the intersection of Farm-to-Market Road 490 and U.S. Highway 281, which the Texas Department of Transportation is bringing up to expressway standards with frontage roads and additional travel lanes. Flat farmland surrounds the airport, which has a small terminal building, a 24-hour automated fuel station and hangars. The airport has 90 to 120 landings and takeoffs per month, said Isael Posadas, city engineer.

Plans are being carried out now to construct a 50,000-square-foot air cargo facility. The cargo building can be used for storage, parts assembly and manufacturing, Garza said. The building should be finished by the end of the year.

"I think if you look on a regional basis, facilities such as those being built out there make sense for the increasing international trade taking place," Garza said.

The cargo facility will be the first structure in a 165-acre industrial park being built within the aviation compound. Plans for the industrial area have been talked about among city staff members since at least 2002.

"I think the air cargo building is one of the last components necessary to have the package to be sold to lure a different type of aircraft to come to the airport for cargo purposes and companies that can take advantage of the facilities that will now be located at the airport," Garza said.

Some of the businesses the EEDC could attract to the airport include aviation support services, like those providing upholstery and engine maintenance. The city does not have estimates of how many people could work at the airport and industrial park.

City staff has a feasibility study giving credibility to extending the runway from 5,000 feet to 7,200 feet to accommodate large corporate aircrafts. This would be longer than McAllen-Miller International Airport's 7,100-foot main runway. City Manager Wendy Smith Sturgis said the plan has not been presented formally to the City Council, but has been looked at among municipal staff.

The study and air cargo facility work are being done with a $1.8 million U.S. Economic Development Agency grant.

All of the work will kick start the airport's foreign trade zone designation. The city owns Foreign Trade Zone No. 251, which was awarded by the federal government in August 2001. Foreign trade zones are used by companies to temporarily store products and not pay import fees.

Even though Edinburg does not have an international bridge or seaport, Garza said the trade zone is being considered its own economic gateway into the United States.

"It really adds to what the community has to offer with opportunities to not only invest, but establish a business here," he said. "Certainly, businesses here could take advantage of what is already provided there."

Other plans for the airport include office buildings, a hotel, restaurant, an emergency services structure and maintenance and general aviation hangars.

"We are able to sit back and take a look at what is possible, what can aspire out there," City Councilman Gene Espinoza said. "We have all the room out there north of Edinburg to grow."

Smith Sturgis said the administration would not work to lure air passenger services to the airport. But, she said the facility could be poised to compliment the air cargo services provided at Harlingen's Valley International Airport because the region was growing enough to support multiple large-scale economic flight services.

"Eventually, we'd like to have this be the premier cargo airport in the region," Smith Sturgis said. "We think its location and size is conducive to that."

VIA has the region's largest air cargo operation and is home to FedEx, UPS, Southwest Airlines Cargo, BAX Global, Menlo Worldwide and DHL. The airport handled 71.6 million pounds of cargo in 2004 and 39.4 million pounds in 2003.

Ernesto D. Arredondo, VIA's director of marketing and air service development, said new companies moving to the Valley are providing enough cargo work to go around to airports.

"We do have a competitive advantage being centrally located and these air cargo companies work really close with the airport and they are very happy being here," he said.

Edinburg's Airport Advisory Board members either did not return telephone messages, were out of town or declined to comment.