Bye Bye Redbird
City of Dallas, tenants invest to create an executive alternative
By John F. Infanger
Cutter GM On Secondary Containment ...
Andy Biery, operations manager for the new Cutter Aviation FBO at Dallas Executive, recently oversaw construction of a new fuel farm. In light of recent EPA enforcement of secondary containment requirements for refuelers, we offer some of his edited comments.
"Our plans for a new fuel farm have been expanded, scrapped, stretched, reduced, and alternatives sought.
"When we first learned of [the secondary containment issue], we tried to scrap our plans to build a fuel farm as its budget had doubled, and attempted to work out deals with our neighbors to share existing farms on the field.
"We were eventually informed that current code, including all new regulations such as offloading containment, will not be grandfathered and that soon all fuel farms will be required to comply or be removed from service. At this point, we determined that it was in our best interest to design a new fuel farm.
"It has been a long and arduous process to build a state of the art fuel farm, one which has the capability to meet future requirements, allows contained parking of refueler trucks, complies with all regulations today, and will do so even as we modify it during expansion.
"Is it possible to comply? The answer is certainly yes. It is expensive? Very."
Location has always been one of the airport's selling points. As the city says, "10 minutes and 1 traffic light from downtown Dallas." It is also adjacent to four Interstates (I-20, I-30, I-35, I-45), but is located in a direction opposite of most growth during the past 30 years.
As Love Field, also near downtown, has grown with increasing airline and business aviation activity, the need for another first class business reliever has emerged, explains the city's director of aviation Kenneth Gwyn, who is responsible for both airports. He sees Dallas Executive as an alternative for new tenants, not necessarily a competitor field to Love, and an opportunity to capture more transient traffic.
"We're poised to take advantage of the growth in general aviation, and to be an airport of choice for this area," says Gwyn. "The real market for this airport is the hobby flyer and the transient aircraft. There's an opportunity for more based aircraft, and with an ILS it can be good for training."
Besides the instrument landing system, the airport offers crosswind runways (6,452 feet and 3,800 feet), a dedicated aircraft rescue and firefighting facility, and some 50 acres of developable land for new aviation businesses, explains Dallas Executive airport manager Marvin Poole. The city is willing to put in the necessary infrastructure, including taxiways, once significant businesses show a commitment, says Gwyn.
The airport also has up to 600 acres of adjacent property for compatible business development, according to the city.
Stagnant until 1998
Poole worked in airport operations at Love Field until 1999, when he was offered the Redbird management position. He recalls, "My first day on the job here I drove up and thought, what have I gotten myself into? But it's been a drastic change."
Explains Gwyn, "This airport historically has not had its facilities well maintained."
The airport had been operating under the management of Redbird Development Company, which was responsible for promotion, maintenance, and development of the facilities, according to Poole. That lease was terminated and in 1999 the city took over control of the facilities, with the intent of revitalizing the airport.
Says Poole, "Everything reverted back to the city, and we broke it up and leased it out to separate companies."
Adds Gwyn, "Since 1998, approximately $7.9 million has been invested or committed by the private sector. We were fortunate to get a number of companies to commit to invest here, including ones that were already based here and made a commitment for future investment."
Among the 21 businesses now located on the airfield are three full-service fixed base operations, including Cutter Aviation, based in Phoenix, which opened a new executive FBO hangar/office complex in May.
Gwyn says that the city has sought long-term leases of 20 to 30 years with major tenants. Current rates and charges include:
o 13 cents/sq.ft./year for unimproved ground;
o 17 cents/sq.ft./ year for improved ground;
o rental escallation provision, allowing the city to raise rent every three years not to exceed 12 percent of the preceding three years.
The airport currently averages just over 100,000 aircraft operations annually, with some 170 based aircraft.
The new master plan
Gwyn terms the effort to attract aviation businesses to Executive as the first transition. The second transition, he says, is to build a new terminal and contract control tower. Both are currently under design.
The tower and terminal are components of the new master plan developed by Phoenix-based Coffman & Associates, according to Gwyn. In all, the master plan calls for some $20 million in improvements at Executive Airport through 2020. At that time, projections say the airport will experience some 152,000 operations annually and have some 210 based aircraft. An "ultimate" scenario projects more than 200,000 annual aircraft operations and some 300 based aircraft. The existing runways and taxiways will be reconstructed as the plan develops, according to the city.
A key supporter of the transformation of Redbird, explains Gwyn, has been the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), which is offering a 50/50 cost-sharing plan - with a maximum contribution of $500,000 - for the physical structure of the tower and a similar proposal (up to $300,000) for the terminal. Gwyn says two of three current designs call for the tower and terminal to remain connected. According to the city, some $16.5 million of the total cost of the proposed master plan is eligible for payment by TXDOT, which distributes general aviation funding as a block grant state. The city estimates that it will be responsible for some $3 million of the final redevelopment tab.
Central to the master plan process, explains Gwyn, was getting neighbors and tenants involved via public hearings. A Master Plan Advisory Committee was created for their participation.
"The neighbors are concerned about noise and safety, but they're also supportive of the potential of the airport for creating jobs and economic development," comments Gwyn.
In fact, he says, it was the advisory committee that first recommended changing the name of the airport to change the image. They petitioned the city council, which in February approved the change, official May 1.
As Gwyn looks to the future, he sees opportunity for significant hangar development for both light aircraft and corporates. He doesn't expect growing security concerns to significantly stifle growth or investment by the city. The airport already has perimeter fencing, and control gates will be added, he says. The city is working with tenants on an enhanced security plan, says Gwyn.