Dallas Executive Airport is Still Struggling. Maybe a Solar Farm Will Help?
As a nickname, "Dead Bird" hasn't fit so well since the city of Dallas' airport in South Oak Cliff changed its name from Redbird to Dallas Executive a decade ago in hopes of sparking a revival of the 67-year-old airfield, which tends to be forgotten in the shadow of DFW and Love Field.
Alcoa.com Flights at Dallas Executive Airport have dropped by 40 percent since 2005.
The name change was followed by other improvements, namely a $7.45 million splurge on runway upgrades and a shiny new terminal and control tower. They spent another $500,000 to lure a restaurant -- maybe the wrong restaurant -- that opened in 2010.
Which hasn't exactly been enough to turn Dallas Executive into a bustling air transit hub, as airport officials told Dallas City Council members on Monday. By one measure, it has been doing quite poorly. The number of aircraft operations per year at DEA has dropped by 40 percent, from 98,000 per year in 2005 to 58,000 in 2011, and even more since the peak of 132,000 flights in 1990. It has also fallen behind Arlington and Addison airports, two of its closest competitors.
The drop is largely due to the loss of a flight school and is beginning to turn around as the economy improves, say DEA Manager Lana Furr and interim aviation director Mark Duebner, but the airport is exploring some unique alternatives to make the airport more commercially viable.
One idea being kicked around is selling a large chunk of the 1,040 acres. Another is to put lease property for a solar farm. Airport execs say they're not ruling out anything at this point. I sent along some questions to Jose Torres, the city's spokesman for DEA and Love Field, who returned them with answers by Furr and Duebner, though he doesn't specify who answered what.
The presentation mentions slow growth at DEA. How slow are we talking? How does traffic in 2011, 2012, compare with traffic a decade ago?
There has been an overall decrease in general aviation from the highs seen in 2005. This has affected airports across the country, and Dallas Executive is no exception. We have experienced a 40% decrease in traffic; from 95K to 58K Aircraft Operations/Year. Part of this decline was the loss of a flight school which contributed a great deal to the number of operations we once had. Dallas Executive has slowly been rebuilding the traffic with a slight uptick in aircraft based at the airport. Another key measure of our growth is in fuel sales which have been growing steadily over the past few years.
What has driven the slow growth?
Economic factors have been the big cause for the slow rebound of general aviation across the region, increased fuel prices, maintenance and insurance of aircraft, and difficulty in obtaining commercial loans for airplanes and hangars have also contributed. However we see promising indicators that general aviation has stop its decline and is poised for growth in the future. For example the general aviation operations at Dallas Love Field are currently ahead of the pace from last year.
What has been the impact of the restaurant, conference center, etc.?
The main impact has been increased awareness of the airport, and has contributed $16K in additional revenue. One of the goals of Dallas Executive is to be a seed that contributes to economic vitality in the area, and having these facilities available is a big part of that success.
-How does DEA measure up with Addison, Collin County, and Arlington?
FAA published aircraft operations (take-offs and landings) shows Dallas Executive is currently below Addison and Arlington in terms of activity followed by Collin County Regional Airport.
Addison - 458/day
Arlington - 415/day
Dallas Executive - 370/day
Collin County Regional - 284/day
How much will the improvements the airport needs cost the city?
Infrastructure improvements costs are leveraged through AIP grants with the majority of the cost to the City = 10% of the overall project. Current FY City cost = $470,000. The tables also represent future projects that have been approved. There are still major runway and taxiway improvements that need to be done, however we need to finish the airport master plan and the runway pavement analysis before we know the extent of future costs. We do know that a runway extension will be in the $35 million range, and that funding has not yet been identified.
When we talk about development of the 480 acres of airport land, what kind of development are we talking?
Dallas Executive has a great opportunity to create a number of different development projects. Given our configuration of the airfield, we see potential to add aviation related development such as hangars, aircraft maintenance facilities, and corporate flight facilities. Given our proximity to major transportation corridors, we see the potential for mixed use around our perimeter, such as hotel, office, retail, and manufacturing/transport businesses.
How much land might you be selling off?
Yet to be determined. Depending on the needs of our future partners, we may look at selling or entering into long-term leases for airport property. Our main goal is to attract quality development that benefits the airport and the surrounding community.
How realistic are the alternative use proposals like the solar farm?
Right now, we are looking a number of ideas that can best use the available acreage and create a return on the airport assets. For example, we are looking at a solar farm, as many airports have, as a way to maximize the use of some of the land at Dallas Executive that is not suitable for other use. We want to make sure we take a good look at any of the possibilities before we dismiss them.