Nearly a century old, Meacham International Airport has catered to many — from airmail routes and passenger flights to a stop for Navy fighters and bombers during World War II. Today, it mostly serves private and business flights.
Despite sometimes living in the shadow of its newer sister airports, Alliance and Dallas Fort Worth International, Meacham continues to play a significant role in the local economy. Every year, it generates an estimated $165 million in economic activity and 900 jobs across the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
And now, the landmark on Fort Worth’s northside could see those numbers boosted thanks to a new master plan that focuses on facilities that support their traffic demands.
“We’re the sixth busiest general aviation airport in the whole state of Texas,” said Roger Venables, aviation system director for the city’s aviation department. “Those investments that we’re making are to do just that.”
Even in the aftermath of COVID-19’s painful impact on the aviation industry, Meacham’s rebound has been significant, in some cases, even exceeding forecasts.
“We don’t see it declining. It’s been very, very busy over the last four years, and continues to get busier,” Venables said.
To accommodate the growing number of services Meacham is seeing on a daily basis, the city is updating the airport’s master plan for the first time in almost 20 years to forecast the airport’s growth over the next two decades — a $170 million investment.
‘2022 was the best year we’ve ever had’
Meacham Airport saw a rebound post-COVID-19 as people began traveling again. In 2022, the facility welcomed over 179,000 flights, a number that exceeded operations in 2021, 2020 and even 2019 – the airport’s all-time highest then.
The airport was projected to welcome 163,158 operations in 2025 and 179,197 by 2040 — numbers that have already been surpassed.
“We’re trying to meet the demands of what we see within this planning horizon, over the next 20 years,” Venables said.
Continued demand for the facilities on site, like hangars, also remains high. New hangars are expected in the next three to four years.
TexasJet Inc., which provides services like aircraft maintenance, fueling, parking and hangar services at Meacham, has already added 100,000 square feet of hangar space to meet rising demand. Another 36,000 square feet is in the works, said Reed Pigman, president and founder of TexasJet.
“We’re basically full,” Pigman said. “We’re anxious to get underway with our 25th hangar.”
TexasJet’s fuel sales, which is one way the fixed-base operator measures how well it’s doing, saw an 80% dip in April 2020. Within six months, jet fuel sales were back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“2022 was the best year we’ve ever had,” Pigman said.
Increased traffic at the airport also means more revenue. Meacham brought in around $5.7 million in 2022 and is projected to hit $6.5 million in 2023.
“The city’s aviation system, our system of airports, are all doing well and are healthy financially,” Venables said.
Meacham is home to several charters and private airplanes and helicopters, as well as flight school training runways. While flying privately is more expensive than commercial flights, for many tenants, it’s about convenience and safety.
“If you’ve got a meeting, a business opportunity pops up, you can be in your airplane in an hour and on the way to that meeting. You’re not still on hold trying to get an airline reservation,” Pigman said.
‘We’re going to need some help’
In response to the increasing traffic at Meacham, the city’s aviation department is updating its master plan for the first time since 2004, thanks to a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.
The updated master plan will pay for improved runways and a new, taller traffic control tower to meet modern FAA requirements. The current 50-year-old tower was identified by the Federal Aviation Administration as a high priority for replacement.
According to the FAA, the location of an air traffic control tower must foster a “safe, secure and efficient aviation system.” This includes siting criteria to assess visibility performance requirements, such as unobstructed views from the tower and the tower’s proximity to critical airport locations.
Other future improvements include the merging of the airport fire station and local fire station nearby, which will open up land for future development including more hangar space. Residents will also see changes to the airport’s main entrance and frontage road that lead to Meacham.
Operations-wise, Meacham’s plan also calls to update the fuel tanks and move them from underground to above ground.
“Meacham is almost 100 years old. We’re excited about that,” Aaron Barth, Assistant Aviation System Director, told the Mobility: Infrastructure and Transportation Committee on Jan. 10. “But we also understand that comes with a lot of improvements… I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job over the years but we’re going to need some help.”
Final vote on master plan is Feb. 14.
The proposed work in the Meacham master plan will be supported by federal, state and local dollars. The estimated cost of improvements in the next five years is $68.2 million.
The total estimated cost for improvement programs over the next two decades is $258.7 million, according to the master plan.
“A lot of that is predicated on whether or not we get the grant funding from TxDOT for a particular project. So our capital plan can change a little bit depending on funding availability,” Venables said.
Some of the funding sources include the Airport Improvement Program, for which Meacham receives a $150,000 annual entitlement plus some additional discretionary funding. Meacham will also receive $763,000 in 2022 and $844,000 in 2023 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
State funding includes grants like the State Block Grant Program, and matching funds for airport improvements, like the Routine Airport Maintenance Program. Meacham will also receive funding from the Texas Aviation Facilities Development Program, which is funded by the Texas Highway Trust Fund.
Fort Worth’s aviation department will contribute $29.7 million over the next five years.
Ahead of the final vote on the master plan, Meacham’s tenants are looking forward to the work that will be done over the next 20 years as the airport prepares to welcome more flights from all over the world.
“We’ve had some really good aviation directors that work for the city, whose mindset and goal is ‘the better the businesses at Meacham do, the better it is for the economy,” TexasJet’s Pigman said.
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