Standing between the mayors of Sherman and Denison at the North Texas Regional Airport-Perrin Field on Thursday, Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum said it was a partnership of the three governments that brought U.S. Aviation to the airport.
“They, with the county, have made this possible,” Bynum said. “This, for me, is a dream come true because I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but there’s a rivalry, in many cases, between Sherman and Denison. … We collectively have come together and said, ‘Anything that happens at that airport is going to benefit not only Sherman and Denison, but the entire county.’ You’ve got some leaders at SEDCO (Sherman Economic Development Corp.) and DDA (Denison Development Alliance) that are willing to let bygones be bygones and sit down at the table and work through something.”
The three elected officials were at the airport to announce the expansion of U.S. Aviation Academy, which first came to NTRA this summer. The flight school, which specializes in instruction for aspiring commercial pilots, plans to add 30 new jobs over the next two years that will generate an annual payroll of $900,000.
The company also plans to expand its aviation repair operations. The expansion will require approximately $150,000 in facility upgrades and $70,000 in new equipment. Both DDA and SEDCO approved economic incentives on Thursday for the Academy’s expansion.
“Hopefully the community as a whole will experience and benefit from this influx of people,” said U.S. Aviation President Mike Sykes.
He said that currently the majority of pilots the Academy trains are from Asia. During their training, they live in local apartments and spend their money in local stores, Sykes emphasized. “They pump a lot of additional money into this economy,” he said.
Sykes seems hopeful this will be the beginning of growth for U.S. Aviation. He explained that a recent study found that over the next 20 years, 260,000 new pilots will be needed, which is beyond the current capacity of flight training industry. “So there’s growth opportunity there,” he said.
The president said the company, which currently trains primarily international pilots, hopes to attract domestic students in the future, as well.
“It’s a great day for your airport … and I said your airport because it does belong to the people of Grayson County,” said NTRA Marketing Manager Bill Retz.
Bynum explained that in addition to the jobs and investment from U.S. Aviation, there will be other positive impacts for the airport. First, the Academy purchases its fuel at NTRA and the airport receives a small portion of those proceeds. Additionally, the expansion will mean more operations at the airport, a factor that the Federal Aviation Administration uses when deciding if it will fund a control tower operation.
The control tower was previously operated as a training ground for air traffic controllers, but in April, L-3 Communications, which was conducting the training, shut down. The Grayson County Commissioners Court voted in May to pay to keep the tower open for the time being and sought funding from the FAA to operate the tower in the coming years.
Bynum said with the additional operations from U.S. Aviation’s expansion, “this becomes real. We believe in less than a year’s time the FAA will take over funding that tower at no cost to the taxpayer.”
“I think we are collectively all polishing the diamond,” Bynum said, referencing the idiom, “a diamond in the rough,” that is commonly used to describe NTRA.
Both Sherman Mayor Cary Wacker and Denison Mayor Jared Johnson said the county’s two biggest cities are committed to continuing that cooperation on NTRA and any other opportunities that arise.
“We are fully committed to moving ahead to working regionally,” Wacker said.
“We’re not competing against each other,” said Johnson. “We’re competing in a global economy. These jobs could go anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world, and we want them to be in Grayson County.”