By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
After several major upgrades and more on the horizon, a bustling facility with a historic past is poised to become the premiere reliever airport serving the north Houston area.
Lone Star Executive Airport (KCXO), located about 25 miles north of George Bush Intercontinental Airport, is in a prime location to take advantage of the area’s booming economic growth. This fact was not lost on Airport Manager Scott Smith.
“What we see is business increasing on the north side of Houston, both domestic and international,” said Smith. “There are several businesses in the Woodlands area that have international connections, and that is driving our desire to have a customs facility.”
The $2.4 million customs facility at Lone Star will enable international flights to come directly to the airport, which is located about 17 miles from the growing business corridor in The Woodlands. The closest customs facility to The Woodlands now is at George Bush Intercontinental Airport, about an equal distance away.
The customs facility is one of one several major upgrades that the airport is undergoing that will further modernize the facility.
In January, a new state-of-the-art fixed-based operation (FBO) — Galaxy FBO — opened a corporate and general aviation facility located at the south corner of the airport.
The new facility occupies 15 acres just at the end of Runway 14-32. Located at 2971 Hawthorne Drive, it uses the new South Entrance of the airport on North Loop 336.
The massive construction broke ground in October 2012. More than 13,000 truckloads of fill were imported to raise the ground elevation; 45,000 yards were excavated for onsite drainage and detention; and 21,000 tons of cement-stabilized, crushed concrete were used for the base for the apron/ramp.
“The new facility will provide visitors with an impressive gateway to Montgomery County — Conroe, The Woodlands and surrounding North Houston destinations — as well as a great experience for the flight crew,” said Jeremy Gee, vice president of Galaxy FBO. “Award-winning Galaxy FBO has been conducting business at the Lone Star Executive Airport since 2006, and the new facility will allow us to efficiently grow our business as we improve service levels to exceed customer expectations.”
Features of the new Galaxy FBO facility include:
- A three-story 45,000 sq. ft. building
- Two 40,000 sq. ft. hangars
- Arrival/departure canopy measuring 168 ft. wide × 101 ft. long
- 45,000 sq. yds. of apron/ramp space with 24 three-point concrete imbedded tie-downs
- Phillips 66 fuel service
The Galaxy FBO facility occupies a 17,000 sq. ft. space — the entire first floor of the three-story office building — which houses pilot and VIP lounges, conference rooms and offices. Approximately 5,000 sq. ft. of the second floor is leased to Wing Aviation, a regional Private Aircraft Management and Part 135 Charter services company, for its North Houston operations.
Two identical hangars provide adequate space for approximately 38,000 sq. ft. of aircraft storage, with 28 ft. of door clearance height (42 ft. 6 inches eave height). Each hangar has more than 12,000 sq. ft. of additional space for parking, tug storage and other aircraft-related equipment. The hangars’ 296-ft. width accommodates any private aircraft on the market today. One of the hangars will be used as a ‘community’ hangar for Galaxy FBO transient and base customers, and the second hangar is available for lease to a flight department.
Located on the third floor of the Galaxy FBO, the Black Walnut Café Conroe features a patio view overlooking Runway 14-32.
In 2013, the airport sold 1.2 million gallons of fuel and is on track to sell more this year. That compares with 1.1 million gallons in 2006 and a low of 673,500 gallons in 2009.
Hangar space increased to 773,000 sq. ft. this year from 174,000 sq. ft. in 1996. Smith said $42 million have been invested in capital projects and operating costs at the airport since 2007. Citing more than 360 jobs on-site and 21,000 visitors annually, he estimated that the airport contributes $33 million to the local economy.
The Houston-Galveston Area Council estimates that economic impact will increase to about $50 million by 2030.
To meet anticipated demand, Smith said, a new taxiway is being built and the runway is being extended to 7,500 ft., a $17 million expansion project set to be completed by November. “A longer runway can carry more passengers or fuel to get to a destination,” said Smith. “It will put us where we should be to serve the market we have.”
Remembering Where They Came From
While Smith is obviously excited about the potential for new corporate customers, he is quick to point out the importance of maintaining what he refers to as “grassroots aviation” — recreational pilots who fly for sport.
“Smaller, general aviation planes are a vital part of this airport,” said Smith. “We have a rich history that is important to embrace.”
Part of the airport’s history is General Aviation Services, a family-run business at Lone Star since 1981. General Aviation is one of the airport’s three FBOs.
The recently remodeled General Aviation now features a concession area behind a wooden bar, a living room-type area for pilots to use between flights, and apron space to fuel aircraft. A new room sectioned off on the second story overlooks the runways, and has a conference table to accommodate the influx of corporate business.
Owner Bob Covington noted, “The economy’s improved and there are a lot of things going on. Come help yourself to a fresh cookie when you stop in!”
Covington’s other claim to fame is being a stunt pilot in the 2001 war film Pearl Harbor. He has a fully restored Japanese Type 00 Carrier Fighter (known as a “Zero”) and is a member of the Commemorative Air Force.
The airport’s third FBO, Wing Jet Center, is operated by John and Brian Wing (father/son). Wing Jet Center opened in 2002 by building a 40,000 sq. ft. hangar with FBO facilities and three aircraft paint hangars which they have since converted to corporate hangars, and recently added a fourth.
“Wing Jet has substantially invested in the airport and is a vital part of the services we offer,” said Smith. “They are the military contract fueler as well and service some important corporate-based clients.”
Control Tower and Beyond
In May 2009, the airport opened an air traffic control tower that was constructed at a cost of $2.4 million. TxDOT funded 90 percent of this amount through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Montgomery County provided the remaining 10 percent on the 20-month project.
In his remarks during the opening ceremony, TxDOT Aviation Division Director David Fulton noted the importance of the new tower.
“You’ll see the biggest benefit through jobs and new businesses,” Fulton said. “It’s hard to attract that if you don’t have a quality airport. You’ve got one here.”
Fast-forward five years to the current day, and Smith is realizing the fruition of his, and the surrounding community leaders’, efforts.
“We are actually getting down to the point where there are just a couple of small parcels left on the west side of the airport,” said Smith. “There’s still developable area near the Galaxy building. Our long-term goal is to grow our corporate business.”
Additional Airport Facts
- Lone Star provides a facility for locally based businesses, and serves as a destination for corporate and business aviation. The airport contributes more than $33.3 million to the economic development in the region.
- The FAA has designated Lone Star as a “reliever” airport to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, and recognizes Lone Star as an airport of national significance for its role in handling non-airline traffic.
- Local taxing entities receive more than $1 million annually through property, business/personal property, and aircraft taxes.
For additional information, please visit:
Lone Star Executive Airport, http://www.mctx.org/dept/departments_a-b/airport/index.html
Galaxy FBO, http://galaxyfbo.com/
General Aviation Services, http://generalaviationfbo.com/about.htm