By David Dennis
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
By now, almost everyone has heard about the detrimental effects of truck traffic in South Texas due to oil exploration and drilling. But have there been some positive effects on local communities too? The answer is yes.
Two small regional airports that allow pilots to reach the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale play are Cotulla-LaSalle County Airport (KCOT) and Pleasanton Municipal Airport (KPEZ). Both airports are expanding their facilities and services to meet the increasing amount of business and personal traffic the oil play is generating.
The Cotulla-LaSalle County Airport dates back to the late 1940s, when it was known as the Cotulla Municipal Airport. The field originally had two crossing dirt strips and an FAA Flight Service Station on the airport supplying weather information for planes traveling between Laredo and San Antonio. Today, it’s a different story.
Airport Manager E.T. Page is proud of the airport’s progress over the past 25 years as it grew from a single 3,200’ x 50’ dilapidated runway with no services to its current 5,005’ x 75’ all-weather runway, with a professional staff of seven tending to the needs of guests flying into Cotulla. He is also quick to explain that work is already in progress on an airport capital improvement project that will result in the only 6,000-foot runway between San Antonio and Laredo, ideally located right off of Interstate 35. The project includes a 1,000-foot runway extension, a parallel taxiway and double the aircraft parking area. The airport’s instrument approach will be upgraded to an LPV approach after construction is completed. LPV stands for “localizer performance with vertical guidance,” which is the GPS equivalent of an ILS approach.
A $7 million-plus TxDOT grant is helping fund the expansion. The airport qualified and was awarded this project about four years ago, before the oil boom even started. Actual construction should begin in November 2013 and be completed by May 2014. Page noted, “Our existing traffic already exceeds what we’re supposed to show two years after the project is done.”
Pleasanton Municipal Airport is also experiencing an increase in traffic resulting from the Eagle Ford Shale play. Bruce Pearson, Pleasanton city manager, has noticed the change. “The traffic at our airport has increased exponentially and continues to increase,” he said. “We think the airport is a driving force to our sustainability in the Eagle Ford Shale.”
Scheduled improvements include the addition of a Wi-Fi-equipped pilot’s lounge with satellite TV. Renovation and expansion of the current terminal are also in the planning stage. Pearson said that a lack of hangar space is one of their biggest challenges. “Our mayor’s airplane is currently tethered to the tarmac because there is no more hangar space. We know that there are local businessmen who have airplanes at other airports for this reason. The city council has as an objective to provide more hangar space in the near future,” Pearson said.
Lack of hangar space is also an issue for E.T. Page in Cotulla. A privately-funded 150-foot-by-150-foot hangar with 30-foot doors is to be constructed simultaneously with the airport project. “I see a lot of decision makers arriving here, and not just small planes with one or two executives. We’re seeing multiple commuter-size aircraft with 50 or 60 oilfield executives coming here to check operations. We’ve accommodated eleven jets on the ramp at the same time.” Page said.
Rental cars are part of the service mix in Cotulla, too. “We started with two rental cars. Because of the oil boom, we now have ten. Sometimes they are all gone. We don’t make a lot of money on rentals but because we offer the service, the planes come here,” Page said. “We are striving to make Cotulla the best entry portal in the area and our efforts are being rewarded.”
Similarly, City Manager Pearson note that Pleasanton intends to expand services as well. “We see the airport as a diamond that our city council intends to put a real shine on. We’re working with a developer that wants to build some small offices with private hangar space to accommodate corporate jets. We feel that the improvements we are planning for our airport will enhance the economic impact on our city.”
For more information on the Cotulla-LaSalle County Airport, visit their website at www.cotullaairport.com. Additional information on Pleasanton Municipal Airport is available at http://www.airnav.com/airport/KPEZ.