Members of the Odessa Airport-Schleymeyer Field Advisory Board were surprised last week to learn that the Texas Legislature’s new appropriations bill included $15 million to extend one of the airport’s three runways to accommodate bigger jets and they met Wednesday morning with State Rep. Brooks Landgraf and members of the county commissioners court to get an explanation of the news.

The airport directors were worried that neighbors would be disturbed by the heavier traffic and that they would have to tear out $800,000 in runway approach lights that had just been installed.

Rep. Landgraf explained that the southeast-to-northwest-running Runway No. 1129 would be extended from 6,200 feet to over 7,000 feet on the northwest end, primarily to boost the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Aircraft Operations Division in its regional efforts to enhance U.S.-Mexico border security.

Explaining that the money won’t be secured until after Gov. Greg Abbott’s June 20 deadline to exercise his line item veto power, Landgraf said thus upgrading Schleymeyer would increase its annual funding eligibility from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration from $50,000 to $500,000.

Landgraf was asked if the $15 million is from the $88.7 million that the legislature made in statewide aviation appropriations or the $1.2 billion it set aside for border security. He said it “was probably more part of the $1.2 billion for border security.”

Airport Board President Winston Kenworthy said the panel would regret seeing the approach lights torn out and director Mark Merritt said the additional noise “would make some neighbors really unhappy” because the airport is currently landing only business jets like the Bombardier Global Express and the Gulfstream 650 along with various propeller-driven craft. They noted that the approach lights were financed by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.

However, Kenworthy said later in the hour-long discussion that he had been persuaded of the runway extension’s value. “If it can fit into our plans, I think it’s good,” he said.

The other runways are the 5,003-foot No. 1634 and the 5,703-foot No. 0220.

Attending with Commissioners Don Stringer and Mike Gardner, County Judge Debi Hays said the commissioners should review what types of airplanes would be using the longer runway and the frequency with which they would fly; but she said after leaving the board room in the Schleymeyer Terminal north of town that she was “all for” the project.
Kenworthy said his board will not take action until seeing if the appropriation is signed into law. He said the airport particularly needs new taxiways and Landgraf said the board could use the money to resurface those and make other improvements as well as to lengthen the runway.

Other board members who took part were Travis Fisher, Monnie Sparkman, Joe Hurt and David Hood.

Landgraf said he had felt he should quietly accept the money when he saw it in the appropriations bill and that it was still up to the board and the commissioners either to accept or reject it. “I just wanted to give you the option,” he said.

The 81st District Republican said one reason the DPS bases its planes at Schleymeyer is that the fuel is cheaper there than it is at Midland International Air & Space Port.

But he said the DPS has bigger planes than it can land at Schleymeyer, overlapping its region with El Paso’s and going south to the border and Big Bend National Park. Landgraf said a number of DPS pilots live here and in Midland.

“Without the border security question, we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” he said, adding that the panel will have two years starting Sept. 1 to begin the project if the appropriation goes through.

Kenworthy and other board members said they are strongly supportive of law enforcement.