That does not mean the facility is facing a grim future.
Bee Development Authority Executive Director Joe B. Montez said this week that progress is still underway on bringing more large jet traffic to the former naval air station.
Montez said the BDA is moving ahead with plans to install Global Positioning System navigation equipment at Chase Field.
The Federal Aviation Administration is designing and testing a high-tech GPS system that will allow pilots to navigate to the runway there without having to visually find the location.
Installation of that equipment is scheduled for March of next year.
The $200,000 navigation system is being paid for with a $100,000 grant from the Beeville Economic Improvement Corporation, with a private grant from a local oil company, the Dan A. Hughes Company, and with funds provided by the BDA.
Montez said Chase Field has become a destination for corporate jets bringing executives from oil companies to the nearby Eagle Ford Shale oil field.
Right now, the pilots of those jets must visually find the airport as they fly into the area. The facility is rated for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) only. But with the new GPS system, the airport will be designated for IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).
That means pilots will be able to use the instruments in their cockpits to direct their aircraft right to Chase Field’s runway.
“Most jets coming to the Eagle Ford use GPS now,” Montez said.
He said upgrading the airport function at Chase will take time. But that effort is expected to pay off with more large jet traffic. The gold mine at Chase Field is its long runway, a facility capable of handling some of the world’s largest jet aircraft.
“We’re taking Chase Field one step at a time,” Montez said. “The FAA granted VFR status here in about 2004. It’s been a progression.”
A significant step in that progression came when Hughes donated more than $1 million to the BDA for runway improvements and then built a large hangar at the facility to house his own corporate jet.
“It brings you economic development for the region and for Beeville,” Montez said.
The IFR rating for the airport will not only allow corporate jets to find and use Chase Field, it also will open up the facility to companies which need a location for Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operations.
That has been the nature of the Sikorsky operation. But with a general slowdown in aviation-related activity associated with military operations, Sikorsky has been unable to sustain the level of business it needs to maintain the Chase Field operation.
Montez said the BDA has no plans to replace Beeville Municipal Airport as the community’s only aviation operation.
“We just want to expand the possibilities,” the director said. Hopefully, that will entice aircraft-related businesses to consider the two remodeled hangars, the warehouse facilities located between the two hangars and the paint booth at Chase Field for potential MRO operation.
Montez said the recent developments involving the Sikorsky operation prompted BDA board members to approve the release of $1.8 million in funds that had been secured for the construction of a new aerospace warehouse at Chase Field.
That included a $650,000 from the office of Gov. Rick Perry and a $1 million grant from the BEIC.
“We could not come up with the job creation because of the slowdown in the aviation industry,” Montez said.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.