Inside the Fence

May 8, 1999


By John Infanger, Editorial Director

May 1999

John Infanger, Editorial Director

Aperson who has no dreams is perhaps one who has little to look forward to. Or, maybe it's just somebody who has yet to consider matters aviation.

We didn't get our Airport Improvement Program funding through the end of FY99, but we did get another two months. We didn't get our five-year plan that we're assured will include billions more for development, but the U.S. House is working on it. And, of course, we have yet to hear from anyone of significant influence who is calling for a total rethinking of the way we run our system today — a manner that is now at least a couple of decades old. But each morning when we open our eyes, the dream is still alive.

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Owners of light aircraft in Austin, TX, have a dream: They'd like to find a plot of land with an adjacent runway near the state capital city where they could base their aircraft. They'll have to hold onto that dream for awhile.

The city is preparing to open its new commercial airport at the former Bergstrom AFB with two FBOs that are investing millions. The high cost of building this impressive facility is causing all parties concerned to focus on key revenue generators: i.e., cargo, airlines, and corporates. While there is plenty of land to develop potential spaces for small aircraft, the demand for a high return is pricing owners to look elsewhere to base their aircraft.

Discussions with aviation folks in Austin recently revealed that many feel the city and the state DOT dropped the planning ball, well aware that many general aviation types would be forced to leave the city's confines. Some say that special interests in this political playground made it impossible for either governmental entity to even suggest building a GA reliever while millions were being pumped into Mueller's replacement.

Representatives at the Texas aviation department seem genuinely interested in building a GA reliever for Austin, but it is not in the business of building airports, just funding them. What's needed is a sponsor from a neighboring city, since Austin itself appears unwilling to do so for the reason already stated.

Compounding the situation is the fact that the previous reliever, Austin Executive — like Mueller — was set to shut down at the end of April. Ironically, the high-tech industries that have made Austin a hub of economic growth have made Executive's property a highly valuable commodity.

The dream now is that an Austin suburb will recognize the value a reliever airport can bring when economic development is the desired goal. Not to mention that an airport can help protect some of the beautiful spring wildflowers from computer factories and housing developments.

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Of course, with the right people and the right ambition, dreams can become reality. It's happening with a converted military base in Lake Charles, LA (page 13) and at a private strip in Poplar Grove, IL (page 18). It's also happening at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport (page 10). Unfortunately for aviation folks who dream of easy access to downtown Chicago's Meigs Field, the dream was squashed three years ago by a very determined and powerful mayor. His is another as yet undetermined dream.

Thanks for reading.