Austin - As Austin Executive airport is reborn in Manor, can we expect an economic boom for the area? Since closing Robert Mueller airport in 1997 Travis County has lagged behind most major metro areas in their support of general aviation. The process for general aviation (GA) to re-establish itself in Travis County has begun. With a bit of luck and some entrepreneurial spirit the community will be able to see first hand the impact GA can have on a local economy.
Over 15 years ago the general aviation community begged city leaders to keep Robert Mueller airport open as a reliever. General aviation they argued could sustain the region and grow the community despite losing the scheduled carrier service to the former Bergstrom AFB.
But progressive politicians dismissed the pilots' pleas and condemned Mueller. Instead they pushed forward with their utopian vision of a mixed use residential master planned community where “affordable housing” is still not available today. Over the years since Mueller closed the surrounding community withered waiting for development to begin. Millions of taxpayer dollars were poured into the former Mueller area to get the new politicians dream community up and running. Someday what used to be Robert Mueller airport may be the socio-economic utopia city leaders promised years ago.
Meanwhile aviators had only the token GA resources available at ABIA,( still only 170 aircraft are able to be based there today), the privately owned airpark in Lakeway, the Birds Nest strip, or move out of Travis County. Austin remains the largest US city without a reliever airport. Most pilots and aircraft owners had no choice. Those who chose to stay in the area filled San Marcos and Georgetown beyond capacity. This forced migration away from the urban center has benefited the tax rolls of neighboring communities. Meanwhile Austin lacks many of the critical infrastructure elements GA needs to prosper. Ask any pilot where they purchase basic aircraft maintenance supplies, like oil or safety wire? You’re likely to find they have few if any resources locally. The lack of infrastructure at best results in a delay of planned flights, at worse a lapse in safe operation. When planning a cross country trip a San Antonio, Dallas or Houston pilot has a much better chance of purchasing a current chart at a local airport pilot shop, than does an Austin based flyer.
But help may just be on the way. Austin Executive Airport is being reborn like a Phoenix at the old 1550’ Birds Nest strip near Manor. Private Developer and aviation devotee Ron Henriksen and his team are expecting to break ground on a new terminal building next month. They have already added a second over 6000’ runway at the site, which will be able to accommodate larger and faster airplanes. The airport is currently surrounded by open fields. Fifteen years from now will we look back at this image and finally realize what Austin lost by treating general aviation like Cinderella?