FBO Profile: New airport offers alternative for Austin flyers

 - June 26, 2011, 1:20 PM

On June 8, the new Austin Executive Airport (KEDC) and its Henriksen Jet Center FBO held a grand-opening celebration. The modern facility sits on land adjacent to what used to be tiny Bird’s Nest Airport about 15 miles northeast of downtown Austin, Texas. Austin Executive is the second airport that Ron Henriksen has built, using his own money and zero government funding to create facilities uniquely suited to general aviation operations. Henriksen’s first airport is Houston Executive, which opened in 2007 and features a Henriksen Jet Center FBO. Henriksen spent $33 million to buy the land and build Austin Executive Airport and the FBO.

Austin used to be served by the downtown Robert Mueller Municipal Airport, a combined commercial and general aviation field, and the smaller Austin Executive Airpark, but both closed more than 10 years ago, leaving the sole airport serving the city the new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, occupying the site of the former Bergstrom Air Force Base. Coincidentally, before the Base Closure and Realignment Commission closed the Air Force base, Austin had already begun planning to build a new commercial airport in Manor, Texas, next door to Pflugerville, where the new Austin Executive Airport is located. That plan never came to pass, and while the Bergstrom facility was plenty large enough to handle Austin’s commercial needs it received many complaints from owners of general aviation aircraft who found the new airport too costly and lacking in facilities such as hangars.

A Welcome Addition

The new Austin Executive Airport began operating in early May. The runway is 6,025 feet long and the 27,500-sq-ft FBO terminal is fronted by a 140- by 85-foot canopy to provide shade and protection for arriving and departing customers. The building also features a 29,000-sq-ft storage hangar, and the first set of T-hangars is already full, with a waiting list for the next phase. Henriksen built a fuel farm and pumps Phillips 66 avgas and jet-A.

The two-story FBO terminal features a glass wall that affords a wide field of view of the concrete ramp and canopy area. Surprises await visitors to the FBO, including an improbable but entirely appropriate Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 turbojet, which powered the supersonic Concorde, mounted to the floor in the center of the lobby. Walk up the stairs toward the second-floor offices and on a landing between levels sits a carefully restored 1914 Indian racing motorcycle. Pilots have their own spacious crew lounge with a beverage bar in the rear as well as two quiet rooms equipped with beds and desks.

“We are currently marketing to the aviation industry for based and transient aircraft and aircraft maintenance, management and related businesses,” said Andrew Perry, vice president for development. “We are ready and eager to partner with the aviation community in making Austin Executive Airport the new benchmark for service and amenities.”

Asked why he built the airport, Henriksen, a former corporate pilot and telecommunications businessman, said, “It was a great opportunity.” When he first began looking at the Austin area, a friend pointed out that Austin was the sole top 100 city in the U.S. that had only one airport. “This city has needed a second airport for at least 10 years,” he said. The lack of hangars at Bergstrom means that pilots either have to find another airport farther away or park outside in the hot Texas sun.

“I’ve had a wonderful ride the last five-and-a-half years,” said Perry, who has been intimately involved in Henriksen’s airport-building efforts. “I never thought I’d build two airports. We’re not done, right?” he asked Henriksen.

“This airport’s been fun to build,” Henriksen said. “People say, ‘Are you going to build a third one?’ I’m not so sure about that.”