The North Texas economy is an aviation economy. One in five jobs is attributed to aviation, according to numerous sources, and the scale and impact of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport is acclaimed worldwide as the driving force behind the success of this region.
Speaking with many players in the aviation community, one mantra was repeated: “Show me a healthy airport and I’ll show you a healthy city.”
Older but less appreciated airports have had and are again having a major impact on the future of Fort Worth and other cities. Thus the major investment Fort Worth has made in its aviation facilities, namely the $20 million recently allocated to improve Meacham International Airport on the city’s northeast side, are paying dividends.
An additional $27 million is planned to further improve Meacham by 2021, according to the city’s capital improvement plan.
The city money, along with a major investment by American Aero, owned by financier Robert M. Bass, went for a makeover of the airport’s 85,000-square-foot administration building that those in the aviation business say is among the best in the nation now.
“When the Bass brothers fork over some money, it tends to work out well,” said Jacque Walker, president of the North Texas Business Aviation Association.
Soon the facility will house a U.S. Customs and Border Protection office that will increase the number and type of annual operations at the airport. Currently, incoming flights requiring U.S. Customs services have to schedule Customs officials to come from DFW Airport.
“Meacham is on the verge of some really good growth potential. In the past it was somewhat neglected, but this is probably the best we’ve seen the airport in 20 years,” said John Hodgson of the Fort Worth Aviation Museum, which is located at the airport.
Hodgson recounted the history of Meacham, which was established in 1925, saying, “It’s gone from a bunch of little mechanic shops to some leading corporations being there.
“It became a center of aviation commerce back in the ‘20s and ‘30s into the ‘50s when it was a commercial aviation hub. Meacham kind of hibernated in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now it’s coming out of hibernation stages to being a center of business aviation,” he said.
According to a 2009 city-commissioned study, the most recent of its type, Meacham employs 2,497 people and has a payroll of $93.7 million. Meacham officials estimate that the airport’s economic activity exceeds $200 million annually and they have seen aircraft operations there grow from just under 90,000 in 2012 to nearly 150,000 in 2016, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
There are three major fixed-base operators, like truck stops for aircraft, at Meacham to service all of that air traffic. Texas Jet has won accolades from pilots for its service; Cornerstone is the newest arrival; and American Aero is the largest FBO. Also at the airport is Jet Linx Aviation, which has a private terminal and provides jet card and membership services as well as aircraft management.
Fractional aircraft provider Executive AirShare also has recently expanded its Meacham operation hub.
American Aero is the major tenant in the new administration building and has 11 acres of ramp space, which means it can simultaneously accommodate aircraft ranging from small planes to jumbo jets.
The airport improvements have been welcomed by those doing business at the field and they are seen as an investment that will prove worthwhile both for aviation and the city itself.
Riggs Brown, general manager of American Aero, said the capital improvements are making the city as well as the airport. Meacham has already attracted aircraft relocations from Alliance Airport and from Arlington, he said.
He said, “All we see is opportunity for growth, a lot of large corporations on East and West coasts that are looking to expand here or even relocate their headquarters here” as a result of the improvements.
The business case for private aviation is made by Bob Agostino, vice president of operations for American Aero, who said that because of cancellations and delays a recent trip home from Los Angeles took him 11½ hours.
“Corporations cannot run their companies on an airline schedule. You can’t run a business effectively at the decision-making level on a scheduled airline basis.”
He also stressed the role customer service plays in attracting business travelers to Meacham.
“Customer service has seemed to take a lower priority and it’s like the difference between eating and dining. It’s not about the food, it’s about the customer experience,” Agostino said.
When it comes to customer service, he said, “Good enough isn’t.”
When designing the new facility, Augustino said, American Aero went for a “wow factor.”
For customers, “It is the first impression of our city and says something about the city, the environment, the people and their living conditions. It was as much a representation of the city in the design of the FBO as it was for the business.”
To achieve the best design, planners did something unusual by including the advice of people who use private aviation in their business, flight crews and those “who turn wrenches,” Agostino said.
He said that the Meacham area has not historically been much of a contributor to the progress of the city, but he sees that changing.
“This airport can service this city to the extent as the city wants to develop and grow,” he said.