At last week’s City Council meeting, Interim City Manager Marvin Townsend shared a copy of a letter he had sent to Greg Miller, the director of planning and programming for the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division in Austin.
In the letter, dated Jan. 30, Townsend explained that the City Council had asked him to contact Miller’s office to see what steps would be needed to explore the advantages and disadvantages of moving the municipal airport operation and the Federal Aviation Administration’s NPIAS designation to the former naval air station.
The subject came up last month when Townsend was in Austin speaking to TxDOT and FAA representatives about the future of Beeville Municipal Airport.
Townsend’s letter included a brief history of Chase Field and its contribution to the community.
He told Miller that more than $7.5 million had been invested in capital improvements at Chase Field over the last eight years. Of that, $4,269,000 had come from city coffers, and another $1,769,000 had been invested by private entities.
“The availability of major aviation facilities has been a key component in attracting economic activities to the region,” Townsend said. “The most recent announcement has been the designation of Chase Field as part of the Lone Star initiatives to study the merging of drone and pilot-operated aircraft in Texas airspace.”
Townsend’s letter explained that Beeville Municipal Airport on U.S. Highway 59, west of the city, continues to serve a small group of users. He said about 10 private airplanes now use the facility, and a fixed base operator provides fueling and tie-down facilities there.
Although there is room for some expansion of hangars at Beeville Municipal, there is almost no room for growth related to aviation activity.
“Beeville is well aware of its obligations at both airports,” Townsend explained to the state official. “The city wishes to explore how these obligations can best be met.”
Townsend explained to the Bee-Picayune last week that part of that obligation is related to grants the city has received in the past for improvements at the facility.
As part of that grant process, the city has promised to maintain the facility and the investments in it for 20 years.
Townsend told the council last week that the city should consider checking with the FAA and TxDOT see if they would require repayment of the grants awarded to Beeville Municipal Airport before deciding whether or not to change the designation to Chase Field.
He also told the council that he had informed Miller that they would like to study the options more before making a decision.
Chase Field is the property of the Bee Development Authority, and its executive director, Joe B. Montez, has long advocated the switch to Chase for the city’s designation.
“We’re in favor of it,” Montez said this week as he spoke of the opinion of the BDA’s board of directors.
The change in designation would qualify Chase Field for federal funds from the FAA’s NPIAS.
The runway at Chase is longer and wider than that at Beeville Municipal, Montez said. That means Chase can handle an almost unlimited variety of aircraft.
Chase also has recently installed state-of-the-art Global Position System approach navigation equipment. The system is used by most instrument-equipped aircraft today.
Montez said Chase also does not have the low-hanging electric wire problem on the runway approach that Beeville Municipal has.
But it is the runway that Montez said is Chase’s biggest selling point. If Chase becomes Beeville’s municipal airport facility, he believes most of the aircraft traffic related to the Eagle Ford Shale oil field would end up coming here instead of to San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Laredo.
Montez also believes that anyone who now has a T-hangar at Beeville Municipal could dismantle the hangar and reassemble it at Chase.
“We have lots of concrete,” he said. Chase also has other available facilities that could be put to use as part of a municipal airport operation.
“We’re pointed toward the future,” Montez said. “Not only for Beeville and Bee County but for the entire area.”
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.