A master plan for the future of Waco Regional Airport digs deeply into a bag of alternatives that range from lengthening the main runway almost 1,400 feet, to generating $400,000 annually by charging $4 a day to use a covered parking area on the drawing board.
It even addresses the possibility of transporting Waco’s commercial airport across town to the Texas State Technical College-Waco airport, which has a runway 8,600 feet long and can accommodate anything flying, including Air Force One, the official aircraft of the President of the United States, which it has done on many occasions.
At this point, the $634,000 blueprint funded 90 percent by the Federal Aviation Administration and prepared by Missouri-based Coffman Associates is going through a phase of public inspection. Anyone could visit the airport between 5:30 and 7 p.m. Thursday to view maps, drawings and charts telling the story of Waco Regional.
Airport director Joel Martinez met Thursday with representatives of Walker Partners, the airport’s engineer of record which hired Coffman Associates.
Ultimately, the Airport Master Plan addresses increased development on and around the facility and efforts to meet growing demand for a larger terminal and increased air service. That includes possibly attracting a second commuter carrier to compete with American Eagle, which flies daily to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
The FAA gets first crack at approving the plan, “and since we track with them as we move along, I don’t anticipate the FAA saying we’re way off base,” Martinez said.
The Waco City Council will vote on the package that looks 20 years into the future, but not before at least one more opportunity for public input, Martinez said.
“It probably will have its approval in January or February of 2017,” ending about 12 months of preparation and review, he said.
The last master plan update for Waco Regional was completed in 2002, meaning it was high time for a replacement, said Jacob Bell, with Walker Partners.
Bell said Waco Regional has a lot to recommend it, including an easily accessible terminal and free parking. It is on the outskirts of Waco city limits, which makes it a challenge for some to find, “but you can get there in 15 minutes from just about anywhere in the area, and you don’t have to drive Interstate 35,” he said.
A drawback is the perception by some that American Eagle is unreliable in providing its five daily flights between Waco and DFW, despite statistics that say otherwise, Bell said. Officials should work to reverse those perceptions, he said.
“The truth is that American Eagle’s reliability numbers are better than the national average, but when you make only five flights a day and miss one or two for whatever reason, there is a perception that something is not right,” Bell said.
He said the city “overall has done a great job rehabilitating and reconstructing runways and taxiways, which are in really good shape.”
It helps that $48 million has been earmarked for such projects in the past 10 years, with 90 to 95 percent of that money coming from the FAA, depending on the project.
The plan does suggest pursuing a second airline to give the flying public more options, and Martinez said he would welcome another commuter.
“I do think Eagle is reliable, but a competitor would make it even more so and could lead to better prices in this market,” Martinez said.
The report suggests future air service could include direct flights to traditional hubs, including Denver, Atlanta and Chicago. It also said Waco Regional appears to suffer from “leakage,” in that local travelers often begin their trips at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport or Dallas-Fort Worth International.
It states the Waco Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes McLennan and Falls counties, makes up 1 percent of the state population. But total enplanements at Waco Regional of about 67,000 in 2015 represented eight-hundreds of 1 percent of enplanements statewide. DFW led the way with 39.6 percent of the state’s enplanements.
The report suggests carriers using 50-seat regional jets to serve markets such as Waco may go to 70- to 90-seat jets and reduce the number of daily flights.
“I don’t like larger planes and fewer flights,” Martinez said. “But bigger in this case means newer — newer engines and less down time.”
Martinez said Waco Regional prides itself in offering free parking, and that will not change. But he said paid covered parking could prove a popular option.
“At $4 a day, I’ve calculated we could become profitable in 3.5 years, and then we would have a cash stream of $350,000 to $450,000 a year,” he said.
Under the “alternatives” section, the plan addresses lengthening the main runway from 7,107 feet to 8,500 feet to accommodate larger and more powerful aircraft. Such a move could mean rerouting China Spring Highway and buying 77 acres north of it or extending toward Lake Waco and dumping fill material in the water to build on.
Martinez said such a proposal may sound outlandish, but it must be included in the report to provide options.
“To do something like that we would need to achieve 150,000 to 200,000 enplanements a year and have Boeing 737s or 757s flying out of here on a regular basis,” he said.
The proposed master plan identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The following is a rundown of sample items in each category:
• Strengths include free parking, passenger convenience, restaurant, room for expansion, I-35 corridor location, free Wi-Fi in terminal, ability to train pilots, full hangars, new on-site rental car washing facility, 18-hour manned FAA tower, business diversity, local art displays in terminal, and limited wildlife hazards.
• Weaknesses include runway length, lack of covered parking, no sterile concession area, limited car rental staffing, lack of courtesy shuttle from remote parking lot, public transportation, airport location and wayfinding, airport service local awareness, and airline service reliability perception.
• Opportunities include hotel development near airport, business development on-site, presence of Magnolia Market at the Silos, area growth, second airline, mineral rights, capturing more advertising revenue in terminal spaces, introduction of paid covered parking to raise revenue, drainage improvements.
• Threats include noise complaints as airport grows, lack of available hotel capacity, high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston, competition with area airports, constraints on terminal expansion, reducing airline frequency, general aviation user fees, Transportation Safety Administration constraints on business development.