Montgomery County Commissioners Court appointed James Brown as the new director of the Conroe/North Houston Regional Airport on July 25.
Brown said he has been infatuated with aviation since he was a kid and has a background in airport operations and management. Brown has worked at L3 Communications, a U.S. Department of Defense contractor, managing U.S. Air Force and Navy projects in 2005. In 2007 he started to work with Boeing, retrofitting its KC-135 fleet with Global Air Traffic Management System modi cations.
In 2009, Brown transitioned to airport maintenance and operations by taking a job managing construction projects at the New Braunfels Regional Airport. In 2013, Brown was hired as airport manager of the Coulter Field Airport in Bryan.
He was hired as assistant airport director of the Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport in February before Director Scott Smith retired in July.
What are the responsibilities of an airport director?
The airport director is the administrator of the airport. Every airport is different. Most of the property in this airport is leased to private development. We don’t own any of the hangars or get any revenue through them. We have ground leases, so I handle all of the ground lease policies out here and negotiating those. I also see this role as a steward between the Federal Aviation Administration, the Texas Department of Transportation and us, the sponsor of the airport. The other thing is construction management. When a project is going on, I will be entrenched in it.
Why is the airport important for Montgomery County?
It is an economic driver. The people that do business at this airport operate as if its their incoming and outgoing base for this area. They are flying in to do business here or they are flying out, as this is their location. The time of owners, CEOs and executives is very valuable, so they can hop in a plane at 9 a.m. and be here at 9:15 a.m., have a meeting and be back at their headquarters by 10:30 a.m. You can’t do that in a car, and you can’t do that on the airlines. That is the impact of business aviation. Those businesses are employing people here; they are generating sales and property tax. It is economic development; that is really what these airports do.
How have the 2015 runway extension and opening of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in 2016 affected the airport?
[The runway extension] was very successful. Our operations have increased, and the base jet tenants have increased. We have 38 jets based here. We are now a national airport, so we are getting aircraft from around the whole nation. Another big investment was the U.S. Customs facility. It has been huge. The numbers speak for themselves; we were anticipating 60 U.S. Customs clearings in the first year. Today at about 10.5 months in, we are at 135. The demand was there, and it will continue to grow.
What projects are in the works at the airport?
The project that is going on right now is the parallel taxiway project. It is currently out for bid. So with the longer run- way and the complexity of the layout of the airport, to be more safe and efficient, you have parallel taxiways. Basically they run parallel to your runway, and when a plane lands, there are places to turn o [of the runway] at strategic distances. Now the plane is o that runway so the next aircraft has clearance to land. That way, we are not being inefficient and sending planes around because that costs the owners of that aircraft thousands of dollars in fuel. They are burning a lot of fuel out there. That is a big project for safety and efficiency. We also have a south perimeter road project that is being designed. That is going to tie the airport together from the north and south side. It is going to prevent some of the vehicles that operate at the airport from having to drive across a runway or safety area. We can keep them away from the aircraft. The public will also be able to use these roads so they will be able go back and forth maybe to the restaurant or the fixed base operator.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the aviation industry?
Anybody who is in the aviation industry is very passionate about it. It is like that saying, “once man leaves ground, he never does anything but look up again.” The thrill of flying, the science of flying and what aviation does for people intrigues me. People don’t associate commerce or development with flying, but it really is associated.