By Chris Sasser
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
As Texas Gulf Coast Regional Airport Manager Jeff Bilyeu stared down yet another flooding event from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, he had to wonder when his airport was going to catch a break. After all, in 2016, historic flooding in central Texas made its way downstream to the airport. When the Brazos River finally crested, it was at record levels causing flooding at the airport and the eventual closure for over a week. The airport entry road was underwater for a week. But it’s not in Bilyeu’s nature to back down from a challenge; he and his staff banded together to surge into the future. Their efforts were rewarded by being named the 2019 Airport of the Year at the Texas Aviation Conference.
“The most important thing is the dedication of our staff to get us up and going again,” said Bilyeu. “They are an amazing group of people to work with. They make everything out here happen whether it’s a beautiful day or weather events such as floods, they keep everyone safe. Four of the past five years we’ve had some type of flooding and it’s just characteristic of this area when we see significant rainfall in this area’s watershed.”
To help mitigate and prevent such future flooding, the airport and Brazoria County paid for realignment of drainage and construction of drainage ditches. The airport receives remarkable support from county officials.
“We’re in a unique location in that the airport serves our two immediate cities,” explained Bilyeu. “We’re growing relationships with Lake Jackson on the utility side and on the land use side. And their industrial development corporation is now interacting with us for future development.”
Many aviation businesses operate out of the airport, including Dow and Bucee’s, with both having based aircraft at the airport.
Being a vital hub of commerce, the airport has undergone many improvements in the past few years including:
- a master plan update
- a runway reconstruction project
- the design and construction of a new terminal building
- the installation of wildlife fencing
- a wildlife hazard assessment
- apron and ramp reconstruction
- FBO hangar construction, and
- city water plant and sewer construction
The airport is also home to the Runway Café, a busy onsite restaurant that serves up delicious local food for both flyers and the community who know where to find the best fried shrimp around.
Bilyeu believes in mentoring to the next generation of aviation professionals. He has a continued relationship with Texas Southern University and has mentored at least five students in the past three years. Those students have completed three month-long onsite internships in an effort to help them learn as much as possible at this airport. He has helped them to learn the importance of networking for job placement and led them to be involved in aviation organizations. He also speaks every year at multiple elementary schools and junior highs on Career Days in an effort to educate young people about the career options that are available
for young men and women within aviation.
“The airport is the front door to the County for many business people and visitors to our area,” notes Bilyeu. “It’s important that we offer a professional first and last impression for folks traveling to and from our County.”