San Angelo Airport Study Eyes Runway Upgrades Costing at Least $40 Million
SAN ANGELO, TX — The San Angelo Regional Airport at Mathis Field is in a good position for upgrades and growth according to a study in its final stages conducted by Centurion Planning and Design. San Angelo’s Airport Master Plan ordered by the San Angelo City Council will replace a similar study finished in 1994.
Molly Waller, a planner at Centurion, made a presentation about the current airport study Thursday night at the airport manager’s conference room.
The Master Plan focuses on safety as well as the various business operations at the airport, including air carrier, air cargo; and government, business, and general aviation. Business aviation primarily represented by jet and turboprop aircraft transitioning through San Angelo is fast growing, said Waller. There is also the possibility of a second air carrier to operate out of the recently remodeled passenger terminal.
Mathis Field is unique in that the Customs and Border Patrol Marine and Air Operations flies the MQ-9 Predator B Unmanned Aerospace System (UAS) to patrol the border from there. No other regional airport in the world has unmanned drone operations of that size, said Waller. That may provide greater visibility at the federal level should the City of San Angelo seek grant funding from the FAA to upgrade the runways and taxiways. See “How San Angelo Sits in the Catbird Seat for the Drug War on the Mexico Border.”
Mathis has three runways, each numbered by the direction of landing. Runway 18/36 (landing 180 degrees south and 360 degrees north) is the primary runway, 8,049 feet long and 150 feet wide. The secondary runway is just 30-degrees off the primary landing strip, runway 3/21, 5,039x150 feet, and nearly intersects runway 18/36 at the approach end of runway 36. A third narrow runway, 9/27, 4,402x75 feet, sits perpendicular to the primary runway in the middle of the field.
The primary runway, 18/36, is where those driving down Knickerbocker Road most likely see airplanes taking off and landing as the winds usually favor taking and off and landing to the south on runway 18. Although the pavement begins 889 feet prior to the beginning of the landing surface in what is called a displaced threshold, Centurion representatives said the proximity of the approach end of that runway does not adhere to current FAA safety guidelines. Their recommendation was to abandon the first quarter mile on the approach end of runway 18 and pour additional runway pavement on the south end while also lengthening the runway to 8,300 feet.
At the same time, because of how runway 3 and 36 almost intersect, new FAA guidelines suggest that the two runways should be de-conflicted by lengthening runway 3 to the southwest and building a separate taxiway entrance to that runway. Currently, runways 3 and 36 share the same taxiway paths and that requires aircraft destined to takeoff on runway 3 to cross the primary runway, 36. This opens up the risk that aircraft could collide.
Centurion recommended decommissioning runway 9/27 and turning the pavement into a taxiway. The Instrument Landing System, or ILS, is installed at the approach end of runway 3. Centurion recommended moving the ILS to service runway 36 instead. Right now, the only approaches available to the primary runway 18/36 are aircraft-based RNAV and GPS approaches.
Above: Airport diagram of Mathis Field in San Angelo, TX. (DoD publication)
Jet trainers for the U.S. Air Force primarily use the High-ILS approach to runway 3 even on days with good weather. Most military jets like the T-38C based at Laughlin Air Force Base require a minimum runway length of 8,000 feet. Currently, the runway with the ILS is too short for high performance military jet landings, requiring aircraft like the T-38 to perform circling approaches from runway 3 to land on runway 18. Keeping the airport “military friendly” is important to airport cash flow. Selling the military fuel is a major revenue source.
In all, the runway project is estimated to cost about $40 million. Centurion representatives said the federal government could pick up 90 percent of the tab based on previous FAA project grants.
Moving the runways is for safety but creating more hangar space for Mathis-based aircraft will provide economic growth opportunities. First, the valuation of aircraft based at Mathis goes on the property tax rolls. Second, more aircraft based here increases the business opportunities for aircraft services companies. One possibility mentioned as an example was a company that performs aircraft interior upgrades.
Right now, there are few locations to build private hangar space, particularly for business jets and turboprops like the Gulfstream V or the Beech King Air. There is also a shortage of smaller T-hangars for general aviation piston and twin piston aircraft. The time waiting on the list to be assigned T-hangar space leased by the City is about six months.
Centurion recommended building a general aviation hub at the far southwest corner of the airfield and relocating all of the T-hangars there. Where the T-hangars are currently located, between the two Fixed Based Operators (FBOs), Skyline Aviation and Ranger Aviation, Centurion recommended building larger single hangars for business jets and turboprops.
The hangar immediately north of the terminal should be demolished to open additional land to lease for businesses to build their own hangars, Centurion noted. More land for hangar space for where the government operations — CBP and Customs — were also uncovered in the study. The City is currently upgrading the tarmac at the north end of the airport where government operations reside.
Long term, Centurion said the terminal was capable of servicing two airlines, but made a suggestion of adding more square footage to the baggage handling area and adding a third gate for airliners and charter jets. Centurion said charter aircraft as large as a Boeing 737 can “dock” at Mathis Field’s jet ways. Should I-27 be built where U.S. 277 is today, Centurion said the City could consider building a new entrance for passengers and a new terminal on the east side of the runways for easier access to and from the new interstate. Currently, all oof the airport’s ground infrastructure, including the passenger terminal, is on the west side of the runways.
Centurion said San Angelo is experiencing rapid growth of business aviation while general aviation is seeing a decline, and general aviation’s decline is part of a national trend. The cost of owning a private plane and flight training is deterring growth in general aviation.
Despite this, Centurion recognized the benefit of having self-serve 100LL fuel pumps at the field. This will lower the cost of fuel for general aviation’s piston engine powered airplanes and make San Angelo a competitive stop for smaller Beechcraft Bonanzas, Cessnas, and Pipers transitioning through San Angelo. Schleicher County’s airport has a self-serve 100LL fuel pump and delivers plane gas to general aviation customers at $3.96 per gallon. Abilene has self-serve pumps with gas priced at $4.39/gallon. The average price at Mathis Field is $5.89 per gallon, with full serve the only option. The City makes 8.5 cents per gallon on “fuel flow fees” that is in line with almost every airport of Mathis Field’s size category in the region. Attracting more general aviation clients will help the airport’s bottom line.
But self-serve pumps are expensive to install, several attendees at the presentation noted. Centurion had a plan for consolidating the fuel tank farm where all gas and jet fuel is dispensed to fuel serving companies like Skyline and Ranger. There may be opportunities for adding self-serve fuel pumps inside the scope of the upgrades to the fuel farm.
The study is done to examine options for future development at the airport. Deciding on what features to add or enhance, and how much will be spent, will be the job of the City Council.
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