Shale boom has business up at San Antonio airport

By William Pack
San Antonio Express-News

Stinson Municipal Airport, a 96-year-old airport in South San Antonio, might be in the right place at the right time.

Stinson officials said business is growing again in large part because of improving economic activity in the South Side and spinoff activity from energy production in the nearby Eagle Ford Shale formation.

“If you look at where we were in 1998 to today, we’re doing extremely well,” said Tim O’Krongley, the city’s assistant aviation director who formerly managed Stinson. “We’re very optimistic about it. Nothing has indicated it would go anywhere but in a positive direction.”

The same cannot be said for the general aviation section that Stinson serves. That sector focuses on lighter, privately owned aircraft that fly individuals and business officials to airports away from the large airports that service commercial passenger airlines.

Rising fuel costs have cut into amount of flying and spending by general aviation interests, but O’Krongley said Stinson has felt less of an impact than other airports in the area.

He and Morris Martin, Stinson’s manager, said several new companies are using the airport for their transportation needs.
Financial institutions, helicopter-based emergency services, suppliers for the nearby Toyota plant and oil and gas companies with operations in the Eagle Ford Shale are among the new customers.

That’s produced new business for some of the 15 tenants at the airfield, like Alamo Helicopter Tours. Owner Randy Riggs said aerial tours of regional attractions remains the core part of his business. But charter work for companies in the Eagle Ford Shale is being scheduled about every week.

“We have seen a significant increase in corporate business coming in here since the runway opened,” said Sheila Bean, office manager for two companies, San Antonio Aviation and Stinson Jet Center, that service planes at Stinson. “The word has gotten out.”

She was referring to an extension project on one of Stinson’s two runways, completed more than a year ago, that made it 5,000 feet long. Shorter runways are avoided by corporate jets because of insurance requirements and because they normally are not listed as landing options on a plane’s scheduling software.

Flight operations at Stinson grew by 2.7 percent last year to 129,136 landings, takeoffs and approaches, the Federal Aviation Administration reported. That reversed a two-year decline.

The FAA said Stinson’s operations total made it the 12th-busiest airport in the nation last year among the 248 airports with towers run by contracted, non-FAA controllers.

While the new customers using Stinson typically come in and out the same day, O’Krongley believes more companies will bring aircraft to house at Stinson as their business activities intensify. That should produce more work and employment at the airport.“I believe quite a few companies would be here right now if they had hangars,” said Martin.

Currently, however, that’s not an option.

Officials said about 118 aircraft, including helicopters, are housed at Stinson. The facilities with hangars are full, and about 40 planes are tied down outside of hangars, officials said.

Jim Martinson, owner of Ocotillo Aviation, built hangar space for 13 aircraft at Stinson less than two years ago that leased out quickly.

He has an option on land at Stinson where more hangars could be built but is not ready to act. Even though business at Stinson is improving, Martinson has been put off by economic uncertainties nationally and rising costs in general aviation.

“There are too many questions for me to build another hangar,” he said.

O’Krongley said for growth at Stinson to continue, the airport’s infrastructure will need continued investment so it can handle the new business.

A $3 million tower reconstruction project is just getting started and other projects, including one involving a new hangar, are under evaluation.