October 5, 2010by Linda Street-Ely
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn.
Airport Support Network Liaison
In a press conference held last Wednesday at the Liberty Municipal Airport, City Manager Gary Broz provided details of the planned $1.6 million investment in the 54-year old airport. From its humble beginnings as Benny Rusk’s private property where Earl Atkins operated his crop dusting and other flying business, to its present condition, a 3800’ runway, self-serve Avgas, and a few old hangars, the airport has weathered some storms. Like some small towns, at times it has been out of favor with politicians of the day, and at other times it has been fortunate to have some of the best advocates money cannot buy. The airport was assured a bright future with the addition of Gary Broz, who said, “There is no use having an airport if you’re not really going to have an airport.” Gary’s 25-year long flight training journey gives him the passion greatly needed here; his experience as city manager in Brady, Texas working with airport manager Joe Mosier, and all the improvements made there are serving as a backbone to Gary’s understanding of the tremendous potential value an airport offers a community.
The presently planned improvements include $725,000 in federal grant funds for what TXDOT calls Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) that have been in the works for more than three years, such as continued drainage work, resurfacing and rehabilitating the runway, and upgrading the lighting system. All these projects are very basic needs and important in the long run for Liberty Airport to be improved.
With federal grant funds which come from airline ticket taxes and taxes on aviation fuel, insurance money reimbursing damage from Hurricane Ike, FEMA funds (also resulting from Hurricane Ike), and $450,000 from the Liberty Community Development Committee (from local sales tax), approximately $1.6 million will go in to the completion of several projects. In addition to the basic needs, plans include at least one building of 10 T-hangars, a pilot lounge, relocation of the self-serve fuel tank to the east side of the airport, a fuel truck, and additional parking lot area. The fuel truck may be used for Jet A fuel, since that option is not presently available in Liberty, but that decision will be made later. While it’s a good idea to have a fuel truck available at the airport in case of community emergencies, fuel contamination from mixing different types of fuel would pose a hazard to aircraft.
Because the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division holds the purse strings for both FAA and State airport grant funding, one requirement to receiving the funds is to have a current airport layout plan on file with TXDOT. The layout plan is an extensive plan drawn up by a team of engineers and other airport development professionals and should be updated no less than every five years. The current cost of that plan is $80,000, of which Liberty will only pay 10%. And although the ground hasn’t even been broken for the T-hangars, Broz says they are 100% leased with a waiting list, making a second bank of T-hangars a good possibility.
The city receives income through the sale of avgas, and the leasing of city-owned hangars and ground leases for privately owned hangars.
Publicly owned airports such as Liberty’s may be managed either by a city employee as airport manager or privately by a Fixed Based Operator (FBO). The better facility an airport has to offer the greater interest there is by private business to locate there. Aviation businesses such as paint shops, mechanic services, upholstery shops, small plane manufacturers, parts manufactures, as well as flight schools, air ambulance, pipeline patrol, aerial photography, freight, and many other services are always looking for well maintained and managed facilities. Companies that use an airplane for business are also important customers. Most corporate aircraft are small, single engine propeller planes.
The Liberty Airport’s present runway size can easily accommodate single engine and most twin engine piston airplanes and a few light jets. It’s location outside the Bush-Intercontinental Airport’s airspace makes it a prime location for many aspects of aviation. With 108 acres available to develop, it is, as Gary Broz says, “a real diamond in the rough.”
Future plans also call for a professional airport manager and courtesy cars, economic development tools that will have area businesses rejoicing. Broz places a high value on having a smiling face there to greet visitors, to welcome them to Liberty, and knows the importance of that person being one from the aviation community who understands the unique needs and expectations of pilots and their passengers.
The most recent study commissioned by TXDOT for airports in Texas indicates that the Liberty airport creates $219,000 annually in economic activity. With these investments, that number is sure to increase, moving the Liberty Municipal Airport closer to being the public asset it should be, one that serves its community.