In a PowerPoint slideshow and presentation at a workshop of the Jefferson County Commissioners Court on Monday, April 22, Jack Brooks Regional Airport Manager Alex Rupp offered an update on the airport and the success of the new American Airlines American Eagle route from Jack Brooks to the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.
As the presentation began, Rupp discussed property development at the airport. Regarding the now-defunct Air National Guard Complex on airport property, Rupp said SGS North America, Inc. contributed $1 million for the development of an administration building at the site. Triple R Brothers contributed funds for an office complex there. In addition, Rupp said he has at least one more prospective tenant for the complex.
Regarding retail/office development, Rupp told commissioners the airport has a letter of intent from Delta Government Leasing to develop up to five acres of property into an office complex and one from Accelerated Development regarding the use of up to 68 acres of retail development at the airport.
“In terms of property development and leasing new tenants, we feel like there is a lot of opportunity,” said Jefferson County Precinct 2 Commissioner Brent Weaver, who advocated the return of American Airlines to Jack Brooks and strongly supports development at the facility on the basis it will boost the local economy. “It’s nice to get new tenants into those buildings that were formerly vacant. We are really excited about that.”
Rupp reported the airport received its “first clean inspection in over 10 years” during the Feb. 4 to 6 periodic certification inspection performed by the FAA, meaning the inspector found “no material deficiencies and no corrective action required.”
Rupp said county precincts two, three and four assisted with recent projects that he said contributed to the clean inspection, including leveling the runway and taxiway shoulders, spreading dirt near the commercial terminal apron, the construction of a new circle drive at the Jerry Ware Terminal and new road signs leading the way for visitors to the facility. Future projects, with the FAA contributing 90 percent and the county contributing 10 percent, include a west ditch rehab project, taxiway D phase one construction and an airfield electrical vault in 2013. The five-year plan includes the completion of taxiway D, runway 30 repairs and an airfield pavement sealcoat. The cost of the proposed future developments totals more than $14 million.
Other future and current projects being worked on at the airport and funded by the TxDOT RAMP Grant include T-hangar repairs, GA terminal repairs and tank farm repairs. The T-hangar project includes repairs to the surrounding pavement at the hangar, exterior painting and the repair/replacement of interior components.
As for the new American Eagle route being offered by AA at Jack Brooks to and from DFW that started Feb. 14, Rupp reported things look good but could be better if more local citizens would take advantage of the route. At the time of the presentation, close to 11,000 total passengers utilized the flights between Feb. 14 and April 15. According to recent figures provided, more people are beginning to make advance bookings for flights, but Commissioner Weaver said he hopes for more.
“Right now, more people are utilizing advanced bookings, and we want to continue to see an increase,” he said.
Over six weeks beginning in October 2012, area cities, counties, economic development corporations, businesses and individuals contributed $1.5 million toward a minimum revenue guarantee or MRG, necessary to bring AA back to Beaumont. Now, the route allows commuters to fly to Dallas from Beaumont, or vice versa, four times per day starting as early as 6:30 a.m. from Jack Brooks. Rupp said the airport has yet to receive an invoice from AA for any funds against the MRG.
According to Rupp, airfares out of Beaumont are low and there are numerous benefits local travelers should consider when booking. Rupp listed convenience, supporting the community, faster check-in, reduced travel time, less wear and tear on vehicles, less stress and free parking – which was listed twice to emphasize importance – as some of the advantages to flying out of your “hometown airport.” He estimated the cost of driving to Houston in order to fly from Hobby or George Bush International Airports to be approximately $224, a figure including 160 miles estimated round trip distance at a mileage expense rate of 55 cents per mile, parking fees and an approximated $25 per hour rate for personal time spent on the road. According to information provided by Rupp, Southeast Texans spend approximately $18 million annually on parking fees in Houston.
Rupp said hotel and car rental businesses in the area have seen a “drastic increase” in sales since the new air service began in February. He said the route has created jobs in the area also, including 12 TSA agents, 12 airline station agents and two additional rental car employees.
Weaver said AA has committed to marketing in the community to increase local ticket sales.
“I’ve heard their customer service has been great,” Weaver asserted.
He said he believes strongly that the developments at Jack Brooks will have a positive effect on local business and the area’s economy.
“In summary,” Weaver said, “there’s a lot going on at the airport. We’re happy to see the development taking place. … We (the county) want to continue to see an increase in utilization of flights and bring more money into the community.”
“Everything is moving in the right direction,” Rupp said regarding the future of the airport. “The hard work and the seeds we planted are finally coming to fruition and turning into saplings.”
Saplings Rupp said he hopes will grow along with the local economy.