WESLACO — Officials here broke ground Friday morning on the first major expansion of the Weslaco Mid Valley Airport in two decades.
The nascent project is projected to be the first in a series of multimillion-dollar expansions that will position the airport to become a regional powerhouse for both domestic and international corporate jet traffic.
Friday’s groundbreaking will ultimately culminate in the construction of two new corporate hangars and taxiways at the general aviation airport, which lies in the heart of Weslaco’s industrial district. The expansion will occupy some 25,000-square-feet of space.
Once completed this November, the hangars will be able to house up to six Cessna Citation V-sized jets. And though completion is still months away, city leaders report all six hangar spaces have already been preleased.
“Today is a big day for all of us — (a) bricks and mortar milestone, as they say,” said Randy Summers, chairperson of the airport’s advisory committee.
“This has been a result of a collaborative effort that has spanned nearly two years since its inception and required hard work and coordination by many partners — partners that are here today and share in our celebration,” Summers said.
The $1.8 million project is expected to generate approximately $60,000 in revenue annually, Weslaco Mayor David Suarez said.
“While this is the second major investment in our airport in 10 years, this is the first time we are adding additional hangars in two decades. And I am proud to be the mayor of Weslaco as we continue to remain ‘the city on the grow,’” Suarez said.
The city got some substantial help to fund the project in the form of an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
The balance of the project cost will be divided between the city and the Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco, according to Assistant City Manager Andrew Muñoz.
Muñoz, who has also served as the airport’s aviation director for the past five years, explained that this expansion is just the first step in a long term plan to make Weslaco a hub for international and domestic corporate air traffic.
“Since we’re the largest GA (general aviation) airport in South Texas, we want to be the corporate premiere airport in the region, as well as internationally, especially in northern Mexico,” Muñoz said shortly after the groundbreaking.
Over the course of the next five to 10 years, officials hope to also be able to lengthen and expand the runway. Doing so will allow the airport to accommodate larger, heavier aircraft, which will create a greater latitude in the types of clients the airport can serve.
To that end, the city has employed the services of a lobbyist to help gain legislative support among lawmakers in Austin for funding the expansion.
“That’s to help us with the next phase of the runway expansion project. We’re looking to expand anywhere from another thousand feet to 1,500 feet onto the runway, and expand the width of the runway another 25 feet,” Muñoz said.
Currently, the airport’s runway stands at 6,002 feet long by 75 feet wide, Muñoz said.
The total cost for the future runway expansion will clock in at around $13 million, Muñoz said.
Officials feel the expansion plans are integral to securing the airport’s position as a destination for international corporate air travel — a goal the city has been pursuing since it became the first airport along the U.S.-Mexico border in decades to gain “landing rights” status from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
That designation, which the airport earned in 2011, is what first allowed international flights to land in Weslaco, according to Monitor archives.
“We are here to celebrate not just a series of corporate hangars, we see it in a much broader context — as an important part of the greater effort to connect our community through strategic infrastructure investment and as a major step in stimulating the next level of development in the city of Weslaco,” said Summers, the advisory committee chair.
Along with big-picture improvements, the airport has also been busy making more nuanced changes to its facilities, including installing LED runway lighting and a new rotating beacon, installing a new power generator, and constructing an all-weather observation station, the mayor said.
“When these projects are completed — and we have more in the works — we will be one giant step closer to serving the general aviation and the corporate business jet community, as well as continue to fulfill our economic development potential,” Summers said.