Lighting, taxiway needed to meet standards

Improvements to the Georgetown Municipal Airport needed to bring the airport up to Federal Aviation Administration standards are expected to begin this summer.

We are barely meeting FAA requirements, Georgetown Transportation Services Director Ed Polasek said. All of [these improvements] are to be in compliance with FAA standards. Its a safety issue.

Polasek said the improvements, including relocating the airports fuel station and storageknown as a fuel farmimproving runway clear zones and runway lighting for visibility, and rebuilding a taxiway adjacent to one of the runways, will be completed during the next two years.

Safety improvements

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to select a project contractor in May to complete the lighting improvements, which also include repairing the electrical vault and signage along the runways. Approximately $1.4 million was approved for the project in March by the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT.

The states transportation department pays 50 percent of the publicly owned airports maintenance costs and 90 percent of its capital costs, Polasek said.

The city will fund approximately $150,000 of the project, which was included in the citys 2014 budget, he said.

With the current lighting system we were constantly having shorts, burnouts and maintenance issues, Polasek said. The [new lighting] is really going to improve the overall safety of the airport.

Nearly $8 million in improvement projects slated to begin in 2015 include the relocation of the airports underground fuel storage, which will be converted to an above-ground fuel farm.

We have a below-ground fuel farm over the Edwards Aquifer, and current FAA standards require above-ground fuel farms at airports, Polasek said. That way you have better leak detection, you have better control over the facility, and you wont get the corrosion and rusting of the tanks and the possibility of contamination of the groundwater and soil around it.

As well as the fuel farm, the parking area near the terminal will be rebuilt along with a taxiway for airplanes adjacent to one of the runways, he said. The current taxiway has several access points for vehicles and allows for traffic conflicts between automobiles and airplanes.

When you have automobiles that arent under tower control, you have room for conflicts all of the time, and its a huge safety issue with the operation of an airport, Polasek said.

The city will contribute approximately $800,000 to those improvements, he said.

Without the improvements, Polasek said the airport would continue to have deficiencies during FAA inspections. The city has been able to avoid violations that could lead to possible fines by showing progress on improvements, he said.

Once improvements are completed, Polasek said City Council could consider completing an airport master plan update in 2016.

Business analysis

Based on the results of a 2013 airport business analysis completed by consulting firm CH2MHill, Polasek said the city is expected to send out requests for proposals to select a firm to complete a market analysis to determine how much the city should be charging for land leases at the airport.

He said the project could take up to three or four months and would not affect current long-term land holders.

Our hangar rates and tie-down rates may be adjusted, he said.

The analysis also included areas in the airports footprint that could be developed. While the analysis contemplate what could happen if the airport were expanded, Polasek said there were no plans to expand the airport past its current boundaries.

Were just trying to get our current ship in shape, Polasek said. We have to make it self-sufficient in its current footprint. Expansion is the last thing on our minds.

Concerned citizens

In February the city was approached by a group of residents called Airport Concerned Citizens, who requested the city halt any further improvements to the airport until a citywide consensus on the status of the airport could be reached.

The master-planning and methodical construction of a city airport is being carefully and quietly accomplished by a small group of the citys population who have treated the airport and the property as its own for the past 70 years, Hugh Norris, a Georgetown resident and ACC member, told City Council at its March 25 meeting. In the ACCs opinion, this has been done steadily, methodically and hidden from the view of the general public in order to create what has been endorsed by the [Federal Aviation Administration] and TxDOT as a needed Central Texas reliever airport and [has done] it in the very center of our growing city.

City Council asked the Georgetown Transportation Advisory Board to consider ACCs request to consider closure or relocation of the airport. The GTAB recommended the city move forward with implementing the airports business analysis and continue improvements.

City Council voted March 25 to follow that recommendation.

Airport closure or relocation

Polasek said the cost of closing the airport could be as high as $50 million, and both TxDOT and the FAA would have to approve the closure.

TxDOT has already said they wont agree to closing, Polasek said.

TxDOT Aviation Director David Fulton said closing the airport would mean dislocating a number of business and personal aircraft, and finding an alternative location would be a huge challenge.

If the city has made the decision [to continue operations], we will not go any further on that question [of possible closure], Fulton said. We wouldnt talk about [relocation or closure] unless the city asked us to consider it, and theyve said no.

The airport, which serves as a reliever airport to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, helps remove general aviation and small-airplane traffic from ABIA to help free up space for larger planes and commercial jet traffic, Fulton said.

In an email to city staff, Norris said ACCs long-term goal was to see the city relocate the airport to a planned, protected, conflict-free site outside the city and transformation of the 640-acre airport site into high-quality, mixed land use [for] residential, commercial, retail and industrial uses.

However, Polasek said if the airport were to be closed or relocated, the airports land could revert back to the federal government, and the possibility of finding a piece of land large enough with environmental clearance and out of other airports flight paths would be difficult.

It is a catch-22 when we talk about closing. We are choosing to maintain [the airport] to have local control over it, Polasek said. The council wants it to be self-sufficient and operate like a business and thats what we are going to do.