Often hailed as one of Grayson County’s largest economic engines, the North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field has been the recipient of millions in local, state and federal dollars in recent years. Much of that funding has gone to improvements to the runway, taxiway and aircraft parking ramp.
The projects were identified in the 2003 Master Plan, and, except for some minor work, the pavement improvements are essentially completed.
“This is the very first major construction project (on the runways) since the county took over the airport,” said Airport Director Mike Shahan. “The condition of the runway and taxiways was probably the number one complaint we had from visiting pilots and local pilots. … It’s been a complete turn around.”
Perrin Air Force Base was founded in 1941 as a training site for World War II pilots and remained a base until its closure in 1971. It was then turned over to Grayson County for use as a regional airport.
Area officials often point to the airport as a key in the county’s economic future, and it is already having a big impact. A recent economic impact study said that NTRA had a direct and indirect impact of $62 million in 2010 and created 530 jobs.
“You definitely get your investment back,” said Shahan. He said these improvements, and others that were done as part of the capital improvement program, address safety issues as well as capacity.
He said the runway improvements were necessitated in part because drainage problems were causing damage. “The pavement began to kind of heaving and shrinking and so it wasn’t real smooth,” Shahan said. He said the uneven pavement could cause a pilot who is landing or taking off to lose control. “It was a safety factor more than anything,” Shahan said.
Improvements ranged from a complete replacement in some places to several inches of asphalt overlay in others. Shahan said the runway, taxiway and parking ramp improvements cost approximately $5.5 million, but only a small percentage was funded by the county. The majority was paid with money from Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Department grants.
With the addition of federal stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, grants funded all the runway improvements, 95 percent of the taxiway improvements and 90 percent of the parking ramp improvements.
Projects such as these are usually funded up to 90 percent, and the airport and county had budgeted accordingly, Shahan said. He said the airport used part of the budgeted but un-needed funds to pay for remodeling and energy efficient upgrades to two of the airport hangars.
In addition to the pavement improvements, the airport also extended water and sewer utilities to airport property on the west side of the airport near Highway 289. “We have 220 acres along (Highway) 289 that we can develop, but it’s farmland until you get the utilities over there,” Shahan said. “If we’re really going to be serious about developing the west side of the airport, we really needed to get the utilities over there.”
Those improvements cost approximately $1.1 million, Shahan said, and were locally funded.
With the previous round behind them, the airport staff and Regional Mobility Authority Board are looking toward future improvements. The needs have been identified in a master plan that is being considered for final approval by the Federal Aviation Administration. Shahan said he expects the document to get final approval in the coming months.
Two of the major projects identified for the short-term are a perimeter access road and fencing around the entire airport. With plans to development the airport’s west side, airport vehicles such as fuel truck and aircraft towing equipment need a way to access the opposite side of the runway.
Currently the options are to cross the runway, which raises safety concerns, or use public roads to go around the airport, which isn’t legal for some airport vehicles. The access road would provide a safe route on airport property for those vehicles.
The perimeter fencing will also address safety and security concerns. It will take an estimated eight miles of fencing to encircle the airport. Shahan said currently the only fencing in some locations is barbed wire, which isn’t enough to keep out coyotes and other animals out that could create a hazard for planes taking off and landing.
Finally, future plans include a continued focus on opening other areas for hangar development.
Once the plan is approved, it will be a year before NTRA knows if funding is available and will have to wait until then to begin the engineering process if the airports wants to use money from TxDOT’s grant, which could provide as much as 90 percent of the money needed.