GA to Austin: Goodbye

May 8, 1999

GA to Austin: goodbye

General aviation finds itself an outsider in the Texas capital

BY John F. Infanger, Editorial Director

June 1999

AUSTIN, TX — Much of the aviation news in this bustling central Texas city centers around the new commercial airport at the former Bergstrom Air Force Base. At midnight on May 1, the current primary Austin airport, Robert Mueller Municipal, was set to officially close, with Bergstrom opening for commercial business with the next sunrise.

Despite the fact that two fixed base operators — Austin Aero and Signature Flight Support — are investing millions in impressive new facilities, much of the general aviation traffic departing Mueller will not be based at Bergstrom. The new focus is on corporates, and GA is essentially being priced out. Sources say that prices at Bergstrom are averaging some three times higher than at Mueller, with a based, hangared aircraft fee of more than $600/month.

"I think pricing is the major problem," explains Dave Fulton, executive director of the state's aviation division. "They're trying to accommodate general aviation, but they're trying to recover their investment." The City of Austin is the airport sponsor, and it is under heavy local pressure to recoup its investment.

The situation is exasperated by the fact that the traditional primary reliever is Austin Executive Airpark, a private facility which was scheduled to be closed down on April 30 and subsequently sold for industrial development. "The FAA had put money into Executive," explains Fulton, "but it was a ten-year obligation and that expired a couple of years ago."

Efforts by the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association and others failed to keep either Mueller or Executive open.

However, Fulton is optimistic that a new reliever can be built. "I do feel that it's important that we have a close-in general aviation airport to serve both light aircraft and corporates in Austin," he says. "We're primarily a grant agency, so to get it done you need a governmental agency to step forward as sponsor ... before any funds are available.

"The only one that has approached us is Pflugerville, and I believe their City Council has passed a resolution to explore it."