DENISON, TX — This is the home of President Eisenhower and of today’s aviation hero Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, for whom they held a celebration recently. It’s also the home of the former Perrin Air Force Base, home of a key Strategic Air Command wing. In 1972, the U.S. government deeded the base to Grayson County. It took some 35 years before significant economic development efforts began which will in time present the chance for this airport to reach its full potential. Spearheading that effort is the FBO-by-default George Schuler, who operates a successful fixed base operation in McKinney to the south; and a county judge [executive] who thinks Grayson County and its airport are central components of the region’s economic fortunes.
Schuler is quite frank when discussing how he got into ownership of the Lake Texoma Jet Center and Red River Turbines. By default — he was an investor backing Roger Hummiston, who went into default after buying out the interests of Joe Best.
Explains Schuler, “Everything was ‘Best’ out here; it was Best Jet; Best Fuels; Best Aeronet. I had loans on all these facilities and they were not getting paid. You have two choices — you either foreclose or work a deal with the people where they gave me a deed in lieu, where I could pick it up on the fly to try to salvage the jobs.
“So, it was a strategic decision. I could have foreclosed and taken my licks and gone on; I would have several million dollars more cash in my pocket. But I have faith in this airport, faith in this industry, and faith in the team that I have put in here that are going to help figure all this out.
“I’m expanding here, because one thing this FBO doesn’t have is critical mass. I’ve got to get critical mass here, so I have to get more storage capacity under my control,” he says.
Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum, who instantly jumped at the chance to be part of this story, heads up the county’s commissioners court, made up of five electees, including himself. He sees his role as being one of activist, bringing growth while managing it, with the airport as a integral component.
Explains Bynum, “It become incumbent on folks like me to manage growth. You don’t manage growth by sitting on your haunches and saying, if it comes it comes.
“The market is going to drive this airport; the private sector. But we can begin to position ourselves to allow the market to drive the airport.
“One of the fights of the past few years has been getting utilities to the west side of the airport. Everybody agrees on the idea until it comes to, who is supposed to pay for it? Our commissioners court took the leadership role two years ago and said we’re going to put in the utilities and it will cost us $1.4 million to do so. To me that is not spending taxpayers’ money; it’s investing taxpayers’ money.”
Bynum has focused efforts on getting support and heightened cooperation among the cities of Denison, Sherman, and the county. They are contributing a combined $100,000 annually to promote the airport, via a marketing committee formed 18 months ago. A Dallas public relations firm has been hired.
Since taking over the operations here, Schuler has merged Red River Turbines under the Lake Texoma Jet Center corporate umbrella. He sees heavy maintenance and government contracts as primary targets, and has hired Andy Gubera to be general manager. Gubera has a background with Beech Aerospace Services and with The ServiCenter, a MRO facility in Oklahoma City.
Comments Gubera, “I see us doing corporate maintenance, anywhere from a light twin to a mid-sized jet. I don’t see us getting into anything larger than Gulfstreams.
“We’ve put on a sales staff. People are quick to cut their sales staff, but if you don’t have sales you don’t any volume. I thought we had to do it to drive our business. We’re at the very front end of seeing it pay off.
“I think we’re well-positioned because we’re not in the Dallas airspace. We’re pretty centrally located from the East and West Coasts; and we’re positioned for Mexico and South America. A lot of the older aircraft — Lears, Twin Commanders, and such — are down in Mexico and South America. Ideally, I’d like to get an authorized service center for one of the OEMs.
“We’ve had a lot of changes; we’ve made additions to our certificate. When I first arrived, Red River Turbines only had the engines on the certificate. Part of our goal was to add our airframe services … by June we had added the complete line of King Air airframes; then we added Lear 20 and 30 series; Falcon 20s; Sabre 75s and 80s; Jet Commander 1124s; and we are adding Citation 500 series hopefully within the month.
“We’ve come a long way. It allows us to target the owners within a 400-500 mile radius. We’re trying to draw from the Addison area. Our shop rates are considerably less because of our overhead rates. Our hangar rates are quite a bit less.”
Lake Texoma Jet Center occupies three hangars with a total of more than 100,000 square feet of space, along with a 25,000-square foot engine shop located across the airfield.
Obtaining critical mass
The Texoma Jet Center has three hangars encompassing some 100,000 square feet along with a 25,000-square foot engine shop across the airfield. The shop, officials say, will be a linchpin to future success.
Explains Schuler, “One of the things that we think we have the opportunity to do is some significant government contracts. There are several thousand jet engines in the sands in the Middle East that over the next three or four years are going to be coming back here and are going to need work. We’re told they may leave the equipment there and just pull the engines.
“We have a facility that is well-suited to overhaul engines. We have the ability to have a world-class facility that could employ several hundred people. Andy’s Rolodex includes several suspects that could be appropriate for us to partner with. We’re having conversations with some of those people now.
“The facility is exactly suited for government contracts. There are very few test cells that are directly associated with an engine shop in the current environment. We have a high-speed lathe which can grind jet blades for the CJ-610; GE had made a conversion to a single-spool rotor. We have the only lathe out there that can do that outside the military.”
Adds Gubera, “GE has one; the military has one; and we have one. I think there are three total, and we have the only one in public.”
The repair station sits on property adjacent to some 1,400 acres, 250 of which judge Bynum calls “shovel ready.” One of two 9,000-foot runways was recently upgraded with federal stimulus grant money, and the extension of a major artery, Preston Road, connects the west side of the airport to Dallas. Long term, relates Schuler, this undeveloped property could become an aviation industrial complex.
(Clarification regarding how George Schuler acquired Lake Texoma Jet Center and Red River Turbines: Schuler was an investor backing lifetime friend Roger Humiston, who sold to Phoenix Land Syndicate (PBLS). It was Phoenix Land Syndicate, the majority stockholder, that defaulted on the loan to Schuler.)