Airport Gets New Carrier, $7M Grant
By JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS and BRITTNI BARNETT
Change is in the air at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, thanks to a new carrier, later flights and a whopping $7 million federal grant to fund expansions.
Newcomer United Express Airlines began providing services Thursday for people flying between Tyler and Houston.
The new provider replaces Colgan Air Inc. after its parent company, Tennessee-based Pinnacle Airlines Corp., sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year.
United Express plans in the coming weeks to offer daily jet service to George Bush International Airport, a change from the Colgan Air's smaller aircraft.
Officials said the transition to the larger craft may take several weeks to complete, but the wait is well worth it.
"We are very pleased to see the new jet service to Houston," Airport Manager Davis Dickson said. "Air Service to Houston is vital for East Texas and this update will only enhance the services for our customers."
Tyler Pounds Regional Airport is served by American Airlines to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and United Airlines, in partnership with United Express.
The change comes on the heels of an earlier announcement from American Eagle, which plans to add a new arriving and departing flight at the airport, increasing opportunities for evening travel.
The new flight is scheduled to arrive from DFW at 6:45 p.m. and depart for DFW at 7:15 p.m. each day, starting Thursday.
Dickson said the new flight was added because late flights to and from Tyler and Dallas are often completely full.
The addition means both carriers will provide 10 daily flights each.
Tyler's growing demand for air service apparently factored into a recent decision from the Federal Aviation Administration to award a $7 million grant to the airport for safety enhancements.
Tyler is to provide a 10 percent funding match, officials said.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn issued a statement, praising the potential benefits associated with the award.
"These funds will be used to address needed maintenance and safety improvements at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport," the senator said in a prepared statement. "In addition, quality transportation services are important for boosting local economic growth. I commend the area leaders who worked to secure this funding."
Airport officials plan to use the money to build a new taxiway near the commercial airport terminal and conduct applicable environmental assessments.
"The airport's hangar space and land available for future airside development is fully occupied, so all future growth for general aviation and aviation industrial facilities will rely on this project moving forward," Dickson said.
Officials also are rehabilitating runway 04/22, the airport's longest runway, to accommodate larger aircraft and improve navigational aids, especially during inclement weather.
Mayor Barbara Bass said the improvements should generate jobs and boost the airport's role as an economic engine for the region.
The new taxiway is identified in the airport's 20-year development master plan.
Officials expect it will reduce taxi distances for the commercial carriers, improve safety standards on the airfield and pave the way for new development.
The Texas Department of Transportation reports that capital expenditures just for infrastructure and airport improvements between 2006 and 2010 generated $22.5 million in economic activity.
Of that, overall economic impact from the airport in 2010 for East Texas was about $66,139,902, officials said.
More than 150 aircraft are based at Tyler and Tyler Pounds Regional Airport, which served more than 142,600 passengers last year.
Passengers seem more concerned about convenience.
Tyler businessman Steve Turner likes the idea of a later flight. He flies to DFW several times a year on his way to Philadelphia.
"That would be great," he said Friday before his departing flight. "I've missed my flight coming home before, and once they are done there is nothing you can do."
Turner said it's cheaper and less of a hassle to fly out of Tyler than to drive to Dallas.
"My wife doesn't like to drive in Dallas traffic to drop me off," he said.
Susan Toye, of Houston, is a frequent flier on the Tyler to Houston flight. Her mother lives here, and she comes in about once a month to visit.
"It's just cheaper to fly than having to pay for gas for the trip from Houston," she said Friday.
Airport officials said with increased usage, more changes could be on the horizon.
"I encourage travelers to book their flights from Tyler Pounds Regional," Dickson said. "More demand for the service will likely help to grow the service."