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Arlington airport lands fans on Cowboys game days
[November 02, 2009]

Arlington airport lands fans on Cowboys game days

ARLINGTON, Nov 02, 2009 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Dallas Cowboys fans are filling the Arlington skies just as predictably as their cars are crowding the streets around the team's new stadium.

Arlington Municipal Airport is pushing capacity as dozens of planes filled with fans arrive before every football game and concert. The city's airport usually has a dozen landings in an average four-hour period. A week ago, 80 planes arrived for the game against the Atlanta Falcons.

"In some circumstances, it's almost double what I expected," said Robert Porter, Arlington's airport manager. "That's a good problem to have." City officials said the boost in activity at the airport is one of the tangible -- but little known -- signs of the stadium's economic impact.

Porter said about one-quarter of people arriving by private plane for stadium events stay overnight. He said they usually rent a car at the airport and frequently stay in an Arlington hotel. They often shop and eat at the nearby Arlington Highlands center.

And if they are happy with the service, they'll possibly return instead of flying into a comparable airport, said Nathan Mikula, general manager of Harrison Aviation in Arlington.

Mikula said Arlington's airport has suffered from a lack of reputation. Many pilots, he said, knew little about the airport, and those who knew it existed didn't know what was there.

"A lot of those people thought we were just a small little airport," Mikula said.

Actually, Arlington ranks among North Texas' three busiest general aviation airports each year. That excludes the commercial airports: Dallas/Fort Worth International and Love Field.

In 2005, a study commissioned by the Texas Department of Transportation estimated the Arlington airport's economic impact was about $93.3 million, including 786 jobs. Porter said he thinks that number could be closer to $100 million now.

Construction of a tower and a new instrumentation landing system recently has made the airport more appealing to corporate fliers. However, the ailing economy has hurt flight schools and recreational pilots, which has pushed flight operations down about 30 percent compared with last year, Porter said.

Still, Mikula said he's already seeing repeat customers who learned about the airport by flying there for a football game or concert.

Sean Fortenbaugh said he probably will be one of them. The Lawton, Okla., business executive flew to Arlington to attend the Cowboys' August preseason game against the Tennessee Titans.

He said he'd never been to Arlington's airport and knew little about it but was impressed. Even with the large number of planes arriving, he said, rental cars and limousines were lined up and waiting.

"They met me at the plane, got my bags, put them in the car, and I was probably gone in two minutes," Fortenbaugh said.

Boost to business The stakes are higher, though, than just repeat customers.

Porter said he knew of at least one tenant who moved to the airport after learning about it through stadium publicity. He said another business at the airport is considering expanding operations because of the increased traffic.

City Council member Robert Rivera said that Cowboys Stadium is a destination for business executives and owners and that Arlington's airport can be an important gateway. He said he'd like for city officials to figure out ways to identify corporate decision makers who fly into the airport, and then make a pitch for Arlington.

"It could potentially be a business incubator," he said.

To make the airport even more appealing, work will start soon on an expansion that includes a new $4.9 million terminal and $1 million parking apron for planes.

Although those were planned before the stadium was announced, Porter said the upgrades take on greater importance now that the stadium has landed some of the nation's biggest sporting events.

The work is scheduled for completion just weeks before the 2011 Super Bowl. By then, the airport will be able to accommodate an additional six to 20 planes, depending on their sizes.

Until then, airport management is looking for creative ways to handle the traffic.

"Once we start getting over 80 aircraft, we really don't have the infrastructure to park aircraft without blocking something," Porter said.

He said he could close some airplane taxi lanes and ask businesses about using their property to park planes. Some planes could also be allowed to block access to a hangar if it wasn't in use that day.

Pool and PS3 Harrison Aviation, which sells fuel, provides maintenance and has concierge services at the airport, has doubled the size of its lobby and pilot lounge. Still, they're packed on game days. Harrison has added amenities, including a pool table and Wii and PlayStation 3 video game systems, to give pilots something do while the Cowboys play.

The big increases at Arlington's airport possibly mean decreases at Dallas County airports that handled more of the private plane traffic bound for Texas Stadium. Mikula said Love Field was the airport of choice for private planes heading to Irving.

Jose Torres, a spokesman for the Dallas aviation department, said data at Love Field were inconclusive. However, he said that Dallas Executive Airport, near Interstate 20, has seen increases in traffic during games, and its numbers are down at other times.

Officials with Grand Prairie's airport weren't available for comment Friday. Although some other airports might get a slight boost, the air traffic will tend toward Arlington, where the stadium is a straight shot north on Collins Street about six miles.

"It's giving the airport a lot more exposure than it's had," Mikula said. "A lot of people flying to the Dallas-Fort Worth area thought they had to fly to Dallas or Fort Worth." To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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