City, County hear plans for airport

Kerrville/Kerr County Airport’s manager Mary Rohrer presented a host of ideas for airport expansion to city and county officials.

A new 2019-23 Strategic Plan for the airport outlines its strengths, needed improvements and proposed capital projects.

Three capital improvements were proposed as 10 added T-hanger spaces; box hangars, and development of the “Horseshoe building,” a former Mooney building on airport property.

Those capital projects would ultimately generate revenue and put the airport on an even sounder financial footing and stronger connection to the community.

The Kerrville/Kerr County Airport’s manager Mary Rohrer and joint advisory board members attending were Bill Wood (current board president), Jim Mans, Keith Miller, Dr. Mark Mosier and Trey Atkinson.

Attendees at the joint city/county meeting included City Manager Mark McDaniel, Mayor Bill Blackburn, and Councilpersons Delayne Sigerman, Judy Echner, Kim Clarkson and Gary Cochrane, and a handful of other city staff members. County representatives were Judge Robert Kelly and Commissioners Jonathan Letz, Don Harris, Harley Belew, and Tom Moser, plus Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer and other elected officials and staff.

Team at airport

Mans led the presentation, saying the airport board and staff drew into their team the city, county, Kerrville Aviation, Kerr Economic Development Commission and Chamber of Commerce.

He said this Strategic Plan was written to direct their actions 2019-23. He outlined the airport’s history, noting its founding in 1941; hosting a U.S. Navy pilots’ program in World War II; establishment of Mooney Aircraft in 1952; and ownership by local government starting in 1957.

“It has a direct impact of $17.5 million per year; and a total estimated impact of $38.3 million. We have 90 airplanes based here and 40 of those are in hangars owned by the airport,” he said.

The airport offers two runways; and operates with net assets of $17.8 million.

Planning process

Airport board members said their planning included data collection; internal stakeholder interviews; surveys of customers; and four stakeholder workshops.

Various board members also visited “peer” airports in Conroe, Fredericksburg, McKinney and New Braunfels, noting Kerrville has lost possible business and customer/pilots to facilities in Fredericksburg and New Braunfels.

They compiled the Kerr Airport’s “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.”

Weaknesses include limited “class A space” for housing planes for pilot/owners; no clear path to acquiring more capital; and what they termed “average service levels.” “Class A” space allows a plane to drive up to a door on one side; and the owner park his vehicle at a door on the other side. And they have space for this beside taxiways.

They have some opportunities to improve outreach, they said.

Their largest threat is having only one major tenant, Mooney Aircraft. They stressed they’re very appreciative of Mooney’s long operation here and continued partnership, but it’s their only major tenant.

Mission, values

Their mission statement is, “to provide aviation facilities and services to the Kerrville/Hill Country area by managing airport infrastructure for a safe, efficient and convenient aviation gateway.”

Airport board members stressed their continual values of operation are safety and security. They say they are always working on innovations and being accountable to the city and county.

Their stated mission is to provide “premiere services” to airplane owners, pilots and other customers.

They have a “Vision” statement that says, “To provide premiere services and airport facilities through operational excellence and innovation, while also promoting commercial and local economic development.”

Strategic Initiatives

They listed “strategic initiatives” as:

• Emphasis on economic development for the airport and the community;

• Actively address airport improvements and infrastructure (and related funding);

• Improvement in service levels for stakeholders and prospective customers;

• Promotion of the airport and marketing the airport’s brand.

They want to actively address improvements, infrastructure and related funding.

“We have 30 people on our waiting list for T-hangars,” Mans said.

Their listed goals are:

“Economic Development” including a focus on “high potential business development” and identifying properties suitable for development;”

“Infrastructure and financing goals” including increasing the number of hangars available for lease; more “class A space;” developing access to financing; and “substantially improve appearance of airport.”

“Service level improvement goals” listed improving service to existing customers and increasing sales to entities not currently using the airport.

“Promotion of airport goals” listed actively marketing it; and providing a positive image.

The airport only has a staff of three, so each initiative has a board member assigned to push it, they said.

Mosier said they are building and maintaining relationships with economic development agencies and, “it’s been educational to see the positive aspects of other airports.”

He said they’ve talked to Schreiner University and Kerrville ISD and have the start of aviation programs. Approximately 15,000 new pilots are needed in the U.S. He said U.S. flight schools produce about 6,000 per year and the deficit keeps growing. “There’s a huge need.”

At the airport site, they moved the perimeter fence out to the actual perimeter to gain some space; and changed the footprint of a maintenance building.

They don’t want any deer on the property; they’re a safety hazard. And they want to improve their nighttime operation.

They have a shortage of T-hangars for single planes. Owners either can’t find space at other airports, or live here and don’t want to drive to Fredericksburg or Boerne to access their planes. These spaces rent for just under $400/month.

They have no larger “box hangars,” that are usually 50x60 feet with a higher door, that could house a variety of aviation businesses or five to nine airplanes depending on their size.

Some land near the new T-hangars is designated for box hangars. Bigger planes burn more aviation fuel than smaller ones, and often are owned by businesses. This might mean more tax base and more income for the fixed base operator, Kerrville Aviation, according to Wood. The FBO is not owned by the airport, and the FBO takes a larger amount of fuel sales as its profit than the airport gets.

In the aviation industry, piston aircraft sales are decreasing while jet sales are increasing, using higher grades of fuel and box hangars, they said.

The third project is redesigning the old Mooney “Horseshoe Building” (nicknamed for its present shape), to make it ready for an aviation–related business tenant at reduced cost.

Wood said having an aviation business on site would provide added income, but the board needs funding to get that building ready for the rental market.

They have had a request for space for a maintenance business. And owners and workers would live here and raise their families here.

They also want to “substantially improve the appearance of the airport” and will be talking to professional landscapers.

Atkission said the airport needs a better “entrance” experience; and he has ideas about how to better market its services via social media and the website. He sold airplanes for a few years and told people, “A mile of roadway will take you that mile; a mile of runway will take you anywhere.

Questions to Airport Board

McDaniel asked what they will emphasize in the next three to five years; and was told, the T-hangars and box hangars, adding their steady funding from Texas Department of Transportation isn’t enough in one year to cover T-hangars; and box hangars must be built with local funds to be able to return a profit. As a cost comparison, they said T-hangars at some other airports cost up to $600/month.

Keith said the McKinney airport “just exploded” and now has a Colorado development company spending $16 million there. Mosier said they have a $40 million jet at the Kerrville airport now and he hopes that owner will want a private hangar.

They agreed T-hangars make one person happy and they have a backlog; while box hangars make more people happy and produce tax money, but people have to know it’s out there.

They discussed feasibility of a restaurant there, with views of the planes taking off and landing. It’s worked other places, but is very expensive and probably not possible here (too far from town). They joked about Rohrer suggesting “Mary’s Wine Bar” for the terminal building.

“We haven’t figured out the answers, but we think we figured out the problem. Just keep working with us,” Wood said.

Future joint meeting topics

At the end of the airport discussion, representatives of the two governmental entities suggested topics for future joint meetings.

Those included the Kerrville/Kerr County Airport; EMS services; “affordable housing;” safety; economic development; the county’s homeless population; Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library; Animal Services; fire departments and their cooperation; and mental health problems among citizens and its effect on local services.

No dates were set for future meetings.

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