PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

August 17, 2012

Airport aims for new air service, development

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

— Development along its frontage road, a Dallas airport connection and a possible air service addition are all in the works for the Jack Brooks Regional Airport. But bringing air service back to the airport is its No. 1 priority, said Brent Weaver, Jefferson County Commissioner, Precinct 2.

Weaver and Alex Rupp, interim airport director, presented their ideas for the local airport at the Start Up Port Arthur Task Force meeting Thursday afternoon. Weaver said the facility faced three primary challenges in restoring its air service, maintaining general aviation and developing along the frontage road of the airport.

The Nederland Economic Development Corporation had been promoting the property along the frontage road and annexed it in order to spur some development there such as restaurants, hotels, warehouses and office spaces. Revenue from that development would help offset flight costs to the public, Rupp said.

“I just don’t want people to get lost and think that just because we lost the air service that the airport is just basically shut down,” Weaver said. “It’s not. It continues to operate. It continues to bring revenue.”

The airport averages about $2.8 million in revenue each year from fuel sales, rentals, lease agreements, passenger facility charges and landing fees. Transient aircraft and general aviation flights still bring service to the airport, and agreements with rental car companies generate income, as well.

There are profitable points at the airport in addition to the rental cars, Rupp said. Terminals can be rented. There are 17,000 square feet of empty space in the new terminal that could bring in new lease agreements for the airport.

As far as bringing in another airline service, Weaver said, “We know that we have some interest.” But he added that having an unreliable airline operating out of the airport would only make matters worse.

“It does you no good to have an airline out there that’s not reliable, that cancels flights, and we were seeing a lot of that,” he said. “That’s a bad reputation.”

A connection to the Dallas/Fort Worth area was still in the proposal phase, Weaver said, and the airport was waiting to hear back from the other facilities. Whether that connection would be to the Dallas Love Field Airport or to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was undetermined at this point.

Internally, the airport was aiming to cut costs and find ways to be more efficient within its own budget, Rupp said.

Right now, the airport was working on building revenue by creating public-private partnerships and doing business in a “friendly” and “flexible” way in order to attract more private entities to its area, Weaver said. Development would mean fresh revenue.

“If we don’t do these kind of things,” Weaver said, “we’re not going to bring in any new revenue. We have to think outside the box.”

Even though planes have not been landing at the airport, it must keep up with the Federal Aviation Administration’s standards, like painting the proper reflective lines along the runways and maintaining 1,600 acres of grass, ditches and roads. In bad weather, flights are often diverted to the Jack Brooks Regional Airport from Houston, and that brings business to the airport through fuel sales.

The airport sold an average of 530,000 gallons of fuel a year with one airline operating a few flights a day. But United Airlines closed its regional jet service, Colgan Airlines, in July. It flew five flights daily between Houston-Hobby Airport and Jack Brooks Regional Airport. The company replaced the flights with United Express, a shuttle bus service.

An estimated 1,600 people traveled by plane from Southeast Texas every day. But in recent years, the Jefferson County-run airport was only able to garner 2.5 percent of the 1,600-person daily demand for air travel. The majority of travelers would either drive or ride a shuttle service to Houston, according to a study performed by Sixel Consulting Group.

bcrum@panews.com