By Jimmy Isaac
Gregg County will need 200,000 square feet more hangar space to accommodate a growing number of aircraft based at East Texas Regional Airport, according to consultants who are creating an airport master plan, but it’s unclear where that space will come from.
“There’s 22 jets based here now, and we’ve got that doubling over the next 20 years,” said consultant Patrick Taylor with Coffman & Associates of Missouri, which was hired by the county to plan the airport’s development for the next 20 years. Information from the master plan will be used to apply for federal grants.
Coffman and airport staff conducted a public meeting last week at the Henry Atkinson Airport Terminal to reveal data and forecasts about the airport. A committee of airport users plus city, county and economic development officials also reviewed the information, Taylor said.
Consultants have inventoried the airport’s facilities, airspace, air traffic control, local planning, land use, access, parking and utilities and have compiled 20-year forecasts, Taylor said.
Annual enplanements — the number of times people boarded a flight — is expected to increase by nearly one-third by 2037 at the airport. However, the nearly 53,000 total operations that occurred in 2016 is expected to climb 14 percent over the same time frame, with most of that growth predicted in general aviation traffic.
This year, there were 105 aircraft of all types based at the airport. The airport expects the number of jets, helicopters, turboprop and single-engine piston planes to increase more than 50 percent by 2037, but the 13 multi-engine piston planes is expected to remain stagnant as the aviation industry and manufacturers phase out such aircraft, Taylor said. Industrywide, the number of active general aviation aircraft in the U.S. is forecast to remain relatively flat through 2037.
“We’ve identified a need for about 200,000 square feet of hangar space over the next 20 years,” Taylor said, “and the question is, where is it going to go? The airport right now is somewhat constrained. They have two or three spots to build a hangar right now and they have interest, so the question is, where is the next one?”
Consultants will take information and reaction compiled from the meetings to evaluate alternatives for the airport, Taylor said. A second public meeting is planned in about four months, while the final master plan could be completed by late summer, airport Director Roy Miller said.
Taylor said the number of jets based at East Texas Regional Airport — predicted to rise to 41 during the next two decades — is an economic indicator of the community’s overall wealth.
For many years, American Airlines and its subsidiaries have provided the only commercial flights at East Texas Regional Airport, and Taylor said American is the only entity that can decide to expand commercial service.
“The airlines are not obligated to operate here or anywhere,” Taylor said. “It is true that airports like this are struggling to attract passengers, because the airlines really want those load factors, so filling the seats have to be at a really high number — 80 to 90 percent, usually.”
East Texas Regional has reached those load percentages in the past, he said.
To learn more about the master plan or view consultants’ data, visit www.easttexas.airportstudy.com.
Miller has worked under the current master plan since arriving four years ago. Improvements made under that plan have included safer drainage, a road around the airport perimeter, increased public parking, runway lighting and a $4.6 million renovation of the Henry Atkinson Terminal.
The Federal Aviation Administration funded from 90 percent to 95 percent of those projects, Miller said. An up-to-date master plan is required for consideration of future federal grants.
The FAA is slated to pay 90 percent for the master plan, estimated at $600,000, leaving the county to shoulder a $60,000 match.
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