By Jeff Price
After a roller coaster period of airport management temporary patches, McKinney Municipal Airport is moving full speed ahead with a new manager and new development, including hangars, a U.S. Customs office and fire rescue capabilities.
McKinney is one of 12 designated reliever airports to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It is located in central Collin County, Texas, approximately 30 miles north of Dallas on Highway 75, and just two miles from the City of McKinney, which hosts a population of over 70,000. A 7,000′ long by 100′ wide asphalt runway, capable of handling an aircraft with dual tandem gear up to 140,000 lbs, can handle the majority of the general aviation business fleet.
Last summer, the City of McKinney brought Kenneth Wiegand on board as airport manager to oversee development and the day-to-day operations. Wiegand is a former U.S. Army aviator, and was the director of the Virginia Department of Aviation, serving two governors prior to his move to Texas.
Wiegand, an accredited airport executive, was the executive director of the Winchester Regional Airport Authority in Winchester, Va. He also served as the chairman of the National Association of State Aviation Officials.
His experience and background is a welcome relief to the airport that has gone several years without stable leadership. Prior to 1997, the airport was managed by McKinney’s assistant city manager, until David Pearce, the first fulltime airport manager, was hired.
Pearce began working as the airport operations specialist in 1997, but was quickly promoted. He resigned in November 2000, at which time Debbie Bergenthal, airport operations specialist, was appointed as the interim airport manager. She took temporary leave in April 2001, and during the transition two other interims were appointed. Another manager was hired in August 2001, but resigned just six months later. Bergenthal was again appointed the interim and served in that position until Wiegand started in July 2002.
Wiegand sees an immediate need to get the word out to the communities about McKinney Municipal.
“I think the major challenge is going to be communicating,” says Wiegand.
“Because of the airport’s growth and the areas’ rapid development, we need to constantly educate our residents in the community and communicate with them on what we’re doing here at the airport. That includes not only getting out on the road and talking to the service groups but also getting out to the surrounding communities, councils and chambers of commerce.
“The main thing that I see myself doing here is first of all planning our work, and working our plan, and educating the public on what this airport is capable of doing for all of them, even for people who don’t fly,” he said.
A recent study showed that approximately 75 percent of the traffic of the busy GA reliever airport consists of single-engine aircraft in use for local flight training or pleasure flights. The study also showed that a lot of the flight training traffic comes from Addison Airport, which has restrictions on their touch-and-go operations.
McKinney has a control tower in operation 16 hours a day. Annual operations range from 140,000 to 160,000 takeoffs and landings per year with over 160 based aircraft. The airport is operated by the City of McKinney and has an airport board that acts primarily in an advisory capacity to the city council, with some administrative authority.
One major FBO, WingsPoint Aviation Services, currently services the airport; another is on the way. McKinney Airport is home to several corporate flight departments including Encore Wire, Lattimore Materials, Texas Instruments, Crossmark, Fleming Foods and United American Insurance, plus several flight training operations, a maintenance shop and charter operators.
WingsPoint recently constructed a new 15,000-square-foot hangar and another group is in the process of constructing new box hangars to handle additional demand.
WingsPoint also shares some common ownership with two other companies, McKinney Horizons, L.P. and Tres Properties. While WingsPoint is responsible for managing the FBO, Horizons owns a significant amount of land around the airport and Tres Properties is a development company that develops facilities for interested companies on the airport. Horizons was also instrumental in helping the City of McKinney acquire additional land for the airport.
“Essentially the 788 acres that surrounds the airport was privately held by one owner who was not willing to sell off those prime areas without selling off the ‘non-prime property’ to go with it,” says Bergenthal.
In May 2001, the city purchased $5 million worth of land, which equated to about 217 acres and the private sector, Horizons, bought the remaining 571.
“They are very interested in the aviation side,” he said. “They see the opportunity out here to make money, just like any other business would, but at the same time they are local investors so they want to see the airport grow just like the city has.”
Wiegand says that the two groups are currently working on an agreement to market airport property.
“It’s a management agreement where they’d be an extension of airport staff to market and develop certain parcels on the airport,” he said.
Tres Properties is also developing “WingsPoint at McKinney Airport,” which consists of 500 acres of aviation and business development property adjacent to the airport, offering sites for sale, lease or build-to-suit.
Bergenthal says that they are currently working through the lease agreements and site plans for the new FBO, 110 Aviation, which will be located on the south side of the airport and which brings a fractional ownership company.
“We expect them early 2004,” Bergenthal said. “Here in the local region they’ve already begun talking to various businessmen and high profile individuals.”
McKinney is gearing up to update their master plan and conduct a Part 150 noise study.
“This place has really taken on a whole new look since about 1999,” explains Bergenthal. “Probably more than half of the airport facilities are new since that time. Then, there was a terminal building that was owned by the FBO, about five t-hangars and two common area hangars. Since that time we’ve added an additional six-acre aircraft parking area, the FBO built an additional box hangar, one of our corporate flight departments located its flight facility here and built from the ground up, McKinney Aerospace built their new facility, and most recently two new corporate hangars just received their CO (Certificate of Occupancy).”
Individual GA hangars described commonly as “condominium-style” are also being constructed, although the airport still has a waiting list for available hangar space.
“I think the entire Metroplex has about a year-and-a-half or a two-year waiting list, and some of those are double-listed—triple-listed too,” says Bergenthal.
In addition to the new hangars, corporate operators will also be happy with many new improvements, including the design and construction of a taxiway leading to 25 acres of developable area on the west side of the airport.
Additionally, the City of McKinney has updated the communications systems within the FAA-contract control tower and there is a U.S. Customs office on site that only charges for overtime. A new fire station is also located on-site.
An item topping the wish list of many corporate operators are fire-rescue capabilities. The City of McKinney had a similar need for a fire station to serve the east side of town. The airport solved both problems by offering up an acre of property to locate a new fire station, thus saving both the city and the airport money, and fulfilling the longstanding need for fire-rescue response on the airport.
The fire department is now equipped with an OshKosh T-1500 aircraft fire fighting truck and firefighters have received Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) training.
To aid airfield safety and for its environmental benefits, all the underground fuel tanks have been removed and replaced with a central above-ground facility. A 25,000-gallon tank and a 12,500-gallon tank are already in place, with two empty pads for future use.
The last master plan update was completed in 1998. Doing a Part 150 noise study while updating the plan should save money, as the inventory and forecasting developed for the plan can be used in the noise study as well. But doing so places a higher level of importance on the research.
“It’s kind of nice that we’re doing a master plan update and a 150 study at the same time because we can use the same forecasts,” explains Wiegand.
“On the other hand it makes the forecasts that much more critical. That’s something we’re certainly going to look at closely, because we really want to get a sense on how this airport actually affects residents around it.”
Bergenthal adds, “Very few GA airports do 150 studies. That’s something that goes back to the issues we’ve had with our neighbors to the south and some of the others in the area.”
In 1993, the City of McKinney conducted its own noise study. While not an official FAA Part 150 study, the results showed that all of the critical 65Ldn noise levels existed within the boundaries of the airport. Bergenthal expects the master plan update and 150 study to have similar results.
“But you never can tell,” he said. “We have added a lot of quieter jets to the fleet but we’ll be interested to see if conditions have changed—really what is out there as we go through the process.”
Is scheduled service a part of the plan?
“When I got here, I thought I was coming to a GA reliever airport and I heard about a plan that some people had to bring scheduled service here,” Wiegand said. “But I’m also a realist when it comes to scheduled service. I know that the airlines only go places where they can make money.”
Wiegand believes that they will probably look at future sites for a regional carrier and terminal facilities, but only on a basic scale, just to be prepared. “I think that we owe it to ourselves to look at that,” he said. “If you look at McKinney and look at its proximity to DFW and Love Field it would have to be a niche market of some kind—people that are tired of driving to DFW or tired of fighting the traffic going into Love. It may be business people that do the regular trips to New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
He added that he realized that those wanting to serve the airport wouldn’t be able to afford the whole tab. And, he believes that attracting scheduled service would be beyond the resources of his limited staff.
“If it comes we’ll entertain it, but are we pursuing it? No,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think it would be the airport’s job, with their “tiny staff,” to pursue something like that.
“That’s an economic development thing,” he said. “It’s the private sector dealing with a private business.”
The McKinney Economic Development Corporation is already a big supporter of the airport, providing $420,000 as a supplemental local share to complete the taxiway project.
David Pitstick, president and CEO of the MEDC, believes the airport has more economic potential than most other areas in McKinney, from the standpoint that it’s the only airport in Collin County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, as well as the country.
“It has all of the things that are necessary to provide services to any type of corporate jet today,” he said. “We’re making plans so that it will accommodate future aviation development. We have a lot of prospective business interests in the airport and are currently working with several large businesses about moving their aviation facilities to McKinney.”
While 9/11 affected all airports, and the Transportation Security Administration has yet to issue official guidance for GA airports, the staff at McKinney took several proactive measures.
“Fortunately, we had begun a long-term phased perimeter-fencing project in 2000,” says Bergenthal. “As part of phase one, we had secured the main area of public access to the airfield and had installed two coded security access gates. The security gates would have become operational in October 2001, but instead we activated them on 9/11. It actually made the transition a lot easier than it would have been normally.”
The fencing project has continued with phase two, completed last summer and comprising approximately 8,000 feet of fence around the south end of the airport. Phase three is set to begin this summer; the airport plans to continue the project, as long as the dollars are available, until the entire perimeter is fenced. The fencing is standard six-foot chain link fence with three strands of barbed wire on top.
Bergenthal adds that airport tenants are an essential and integral part of the security program.
“As with most GA airports, vigilance is definitely the key to our success so far,” he said. “Our tenants and airport users are very watchful and frequently report unusual or suspicious activities.”
Bergenthal added that they have received tremendous support from their air traffic controllers, the FBO and the other businesses on the airport.
“Additionally, our local police department is very supportive of the airport and stepped up routine patrols of the airport immediately,” he said. “Any time the security level has increased since then or we have a particular occurrence, they respond to meet the needs of the situation. Fortunately, they are also very responsive when contacted for routine or emergency situations.”
Wiegand and Bergenthal are pushing to get the word out on the benefits of the city’s only airport.
“To the people who don’t fly, there are the things that general aviation airports always support,” says Wiegand, mentioning first the local corporations that use the airport.
“We have businesses that use aircraft as business tools that will bring jobs and they bring tax revenue to the community,” he said. “Tax revenue is especially needed now because of the rapid growth on the residential side in our community, where there’s a demand for services that have to be paid for, and the airport certainly contributes a lot in terms of broadening the tax base to pay for those services.”
The airport also supports law enforcement, aero medical flights (organ transport) and public utility line patrol, as well as acting as a source of recreation in the community. The airport has a large Experimental Aircraft Association chapter and takes children up for orientation flights through its Young Eagles program.
Additionally, there is a very active Angel Flight program at McKinney. Angel Flight provides free air transportation to patients and their families needing medical treatment whose resources might not enable them to receive care otherwise.
Bergenthal also notes that the airport is a source of inspiration for young minds that may seek careers in aviation. With Wiegand and Bergenthal now steadily minding the management helm, along with Joyce Moulton, aviation coordinator, McKinney Municipal Airport is moving ahead at full throttle.
For more information, visit [http://www.mckinneytexas.org/airport/intro.htm].