by Chris Sasser,
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
In 1995, San Antonio residents learned that historic Kelly Air Force Base was slated for closure and many were alarmed by the uncertainty of what would become of the sprawling complex on the southwest side of town employing thousands of civilians. What ultimately occurred was the redevelopment of the base into a master-planned, 1,900-acre logistics-based aerospace and industrial complex that has defied recent economic odds.
A Proud History
Kelly Field, where chapters in military aviation were first written, was born in November 1916, when the “Father of Military Aviation,” Captain Benjamin Foulois, selected the site for the expanding activities of the aviation flying section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. During World War I, Kelly Field served as a reception and testing center for recruits and as a training center for pilots, mechanics, cooks and bakers, as well as engineering and supply officers. Most American World War I flyers trained or were processed at Kelly Field.
During World War II, Kelly Field developed into a huge industrial complex that stored and distributed material, and modified or repaired aircraft, engines and related equipment. These adjustments marked the start of a distinct shift in Kelly’s mission, which, over the next 40 years, expanded into a worldwide logistics and support capability. Kelly Field was renamed Kelly Air Force Base in 1948 after the Air Force became a separate branch of the Armed Services in 1947. During these years, Kelly also became the region’s largest employer—providing thousands of civilian jobs to generations of San Antonians, and giving rise to the region’s Hispanic middle class.
Kelly maintained such aircraft as the B-29, B-36, B-47 and B-58 bombers, numerous types of fighters including the F-102 and F-106, and various cargo planes.
Kelly Air Force Base was closed and its assets realigned by the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure IV Commission. Parts of the installation were shifted to adjacent Lackland Air Force Base, with a significant portion of the former Kelly AFB becoming Port San Antonio.
A New Era of Economic Prosperity
In 2001 Kelly Air Force Base officially closed and the Greater Kelly Development Authority, a political subdivision of the State of Texas, began overseeing the redevelopment and management of the property under the name KellyUSA. In 2007 the organization rebranded itself as Port San Antonio, underscoring its air, rail and logistics assets and growing relationships with U.S. and Mexican seaports.
Though created by the government, Port San Antonio is operationally self sustaining and runs like a business. It obtains its income from properties it develops, leases, upgrades and maintains for its growing private and public sector customers.
Port San Antonio has developed a strategy allowing it to align its mix of assets to an array of customers and dynamic market conditions. As part of its growth, it has focused on four key functional areas:
Kelly Field — An industrial airport within a foreign-trade zone that features an 11,500-foot runway which Lackland Air Force Base shares with Port San Antonio through a joint use agreement. South of the runway is one of the country’s largest arrays of jet aircraft engine test cells.
Since its inauguration, 14 aerospace-based businesses have established operations at Port San Antonio, initially focusing on military aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul projects and, increasingly, on commercial aviation. Kelly Field also features an 89,500-square-foot air cargo hangar which Port San Antonio completed in 2008 and an adjacent U.S. Customs facility inaugurated the following year. Atlantic Aviation established FBO operations in 2006.
East Kelly Railport — A 350-acre site with logistics and manufacturing options, with rail access from BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad. Opened in 2007, East Kelly Railport is a growing hub for regional logistics, with customers that provide warehousing and distribution for everything from consumer goods, bulk manufacturing materials and, increasingly, support for energy projects resulting from the nearby Eagle Ford Shale.
Lindbergh Park – 45 acres near existing Air Force operations at the Port for the development of additional force protected offices and necessary parking to support the growth of military operations and government contractors in the region.
Kelly Center — 400 acres at the heart of the property to serve the needs of a growing workforce, including housing and educational facilities that support training for the growing number of aerospace workers and to help future generations access promising careers with Port customers .
The impressive record of job creation at Port San Antonio during the past decade is the result of having attracted nearly 80 organizations employing over 14,000 workers. Port customers generate $4.2 billion in annual economic activity for the region, making it one of the most successful base redevelopment projects in BRAC history.
Among the 14 aerospace businesses that call Port San Antonio home are the following:
- Boeing Company’s Global Service and Support — This facility is one of the largest military aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities in the world. The first commercial aircraft at Port San Antonio, the 787 Dreamliner, arrived on March 4, 2011 for change incorporation and refurbishment work. Soon to follow were several 747-8 Freighters, which are also undergoing similar upgrades before delivery to customers worldwide.
- Kelly Aviation Center-An Affiliate of Lockheed Martin Corporation — Lockheed Martin Corporation’s only aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.
- Chromalloy — A leading turbine engine service provider.
- Gore Design Completion — A turnkey completion center specializing in luxury commercial aircraft interiors for dignitaries, heads-of-states and other VIPs. Since its arrival at the Port in 2005, the company has grown from 150 to over 600 workers—making it the largest firm of its kind in North American and the third largest in the world.
- StandardAero San Antonio — Within the Kelly Aviation Center facility, StandardAero operates the world’s largest T-56 engine maintenance, repair and overhaul facility.
- Pratt & Whitney – One of the first private firms to arrive at Kelly Field, where it operates the world’s largest maintenance facility for F100 engines powering F15 and F16 military fighters.
In addition to these businesses, St. Philip’s College operates its Southwest Campus at Port San Antonio. The institution provides education and training that enables the recruitment of new employees and ensures that current workers’ skills are up to date. St. Philip’s is also the site of the Alamo Aerospace Academy, which recruits high school students into a two-year program in aircraft structures and turbine engine maintenance and , through a paid summer internship program, provides them hands-on experience with companies at Port San Antonio. After graduation, many Academy graduates embark upon fulfilling careers with Port aerospace customers.
Under the terms of an agreement announced in December 2011, Port San Antonio will provide 40 acres and a 40,000-square-foot building to expand the St. Philip’s Southwest Campus. In return, Alamo Colleges, the local community college district which includes St. Philip’s, will provide over $5 million in training to existing and future aerospace workers—further cementing Port San Antonio as a center for aerospace excellence.
“I’ve seen the case where a base is closing and there is no plan to do anything with the property or its facilities,” says Curtis Morgan, program manager of the Multimodal Freight Program at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “What Port San Antonio is doing in the area of economic development is impressive to say the least.”
General Aviation and Beyond
Port San Antonio’s industrial airport at Kelly Field (KSKF) also looks to expand its role with industrial and corporate general aviation.
“To our east we have Stinson Municipal Airport and to the north the community is served by San Antonio International,” explains Kelly Field Airport General Manager Rick Crider. “Kelly Field will enhance the aviation fabric of this community by adding industrial and corporate aviation capacity, and complementing the attributes of the other airports in this region. Our goal is to have a fully operational joint-use facility that serves everyone’s needs in a very safe and secure environment.”
In 2010, after nearly a decade of fundraising by the Port, the city of San Antonio began work on a road-building project at the port, which, when completed in 2013, will create a new access route into the complex. The new road will also allow for the addition of new air-served facilities on 150 acres at Kelly Field, which, upon full development, could support up to 8,000 additional aerospace-related jobs in that part of the Port alone.
Crider notes that the Port, in collaboration with FBO Atlantic Aviation, plans to expand corporate aviation services with the addition of a new terminal building and hangar facilities.