Fawcett, commissioners tangle over airport

Dallas airline withdraws from Odessa flights

Odessa Airport-Schleymeyer Field is seen Wednesday, June 16, 2021, in Odessa. (Odessa American File Photo)

Ector County Judge Dustin Fawcett and the county commissioners and Odessa Airport-Schleymeyer Field Board of Directors aren’t getting along and their big bone of contention is the county-owned airport.

You could say they flat don’t like one another.

Fawcett says the commissioners were wrong to cancel Texas Aero’s fixed based operator contract Oct. 24 and Precinct 3 Commissioner Don Stringer and Airport Board Chairman Mark Merritt say Fawcett is beholden to Texas Aero President Billy Meyer of Waco for giving over $40,000 to the judge’s 2022 election campaign.

Fawcett blames the commissioners and airport board for the recent withdrawal of the “hop-on jet service,” JSX Airlines of Dallas, and its verbal commitment to start flying out of Schleymeyer in January while Stringer and Merritt say it’s not much of a loss because the airport is already about as busy as it can get and Delta Airlines’ recently stated intention to begin short hauls out of Midland International Air & Space Port was probably the main reason for JSX’s decision.

Fawcett says the commissioners and airport board also stubbed their toes in July 2021 when they rejected a $15-million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to extend a Schleymeyer runway because it would have been a major economic development initiative, although the county commission and airport board members said then that they were dubious because the grant would have entailed a $1.5-million obligation by the county and it wouldn’t have covered ramp and taxiway improvements, among other reservations.

Efforts to reach Meyer for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday and Wednesday, but Stringer said Texas Aero is welcome to bid for the new FBO contract and he will support the company if it offers the best bid, although the terms will have to be much more favorable to the county than the previous deal.

“Texas Aero spent a whole lot more money than they should have to elect Fawcett and he’s got to be loyal to them,” said Stringer, who is the commissioners court’s liaison to the airport board. “People have got to wonder why someone would spend so much money in Ector County to buy a judge.

“It’s my job to protect the taxpayers and have the best contract in place for them whereas it’s the judge’s interest to protect Texas Aero and Billy Meyer, who put him in office.”

Stringer said Meyer had bought the FBO contract from the previous operator.

“Billy gets the majority of the revenues for fuel sales and hangar leases while the county gets the expenses and he will do everything he can to keep the contract,” he said. “We’re supposed to have full access to his audits, which he won’t disclose to us.

“But his annual revenues should be around $1.2 million. He has no expenses other than his employees.”

Merritt said the airport permanently houses 125 privately owned airplanes and accommodates another 55 that regularly use it, adding that Schleymeyer recorded 30,000 landings and takeoffs in 2022.

Fawcett said a group including Meyer contributed more than $40,000 in in-kind services like mailers late in his campaign but only after he’d stated his position on the airport at a Republican Party debate. “I’m not beholden to Billy,” the judge said.

“That is a mischaracterization and a very ill-informed statement. I had taken my stance on the airport after the airport board and commissioners squandered the $15 million.

“The airport should be used for economic development, but the commissioners and airport board are very protectionist for a bunch of rich individuals who own airplanes and want a place to fly their toys on the weekends.

“They don’t want to expand the air service and they used the straw argument that big freightliners would have been flying over and disturbing the neighborhood. But we were not going to have 737s flying in,” Fawcett said.

He said one reason JSX withdrew “was that they had been made aware of what happened with Texas Aero in this silly political battle.

“So I can’t blame somebody for not wanting to come here till we get this thing settled,” he said.