January 6, 2005
In a surprise move, provisions that would have freed up funding and created a new airport to serve central Texas were removed from final legislation last week, leaving Austin-area pilots without a long-promised replacement for Robert Mueller Field.
The provisions were removed during conference committee deliberations in the legislature's final hours despite having been approved unanimously by committees in both houses in recent weeks. With the legislature now adjourned and not scheduled to reconvene for more than a year, airport advocates will begin exploring other avenues.
"AOPA fought hard for this legislation, and we're disappointed that lawmakers would remove it at the eleventh hour in a closed-door conference after it had received unanimous approval throughout the public legislative process," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of Government and Technical Affairs.
Sen. Stephen Ogden and Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the Texas House Transportation Committee, sponsored the measure in their respective chambers, working with AOPA to champion the legislation. The airport provisions also had the enthusiastic support of Mayor John Cowman of Leander, Texas, planned home of the new field.
AOPA Vice President of Airports Bill Dunn and AOPA Southwest Regional Representative Shelly Lesikar were regular visitors to the state capitol in Austin, meeting with lawmakers and community leaders and gathering support for the airport plan.
"Although this is a serious setback, we're not giving up," Cebula said. "AOPA will continue to work with our more than 30,000 Texas members as well as community and state leaders to find a way to bring a much-needed GA airport to central Texas."
In the early 1990s, the City of Austin began planning to close Robert Mueller Field, an airport that served general aviation exceptionally well with its close location to the city, and transfer both GA and commercial operations to the distant former military airfield at Bergstrom Air Force base. Local pilots and AOPA recognized that that would not serve GA well and began lobbying to keep Mueller as a GA-only facility. The city promised - but never delivered - equal facilities for GA at Bergstrom. So AOPA began efforts to get a new GA airport built.
In 1999, AOPA nearly succeeded in getting a bill that would have required the state to take over Mueller, downsize it, and operate the airport as a strictly general aviation facility.
In the 2001 legislative session (the Texas Legislature meets every other year), AOPA helped get House Bill 2522 passed and signed by the governor. That started the Texas Department of Transportation on a project to identify sites for a new airport. Unfortunately, local officials wouldn't approve any of the three locations TDOT had picked.
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