In less than a month, a new airport terminal and a new name will sit just east of Sheppard Air Force Base. But, is it the answer to giving Texoma families more flight options?
Newschannel 6 walked through the new airport with the Mayor and, the biggest complaints about the old terminal include, not enough carriers, not enough destinations and a less than stellar terminal.
FAA workers, even chimed in saying our old terminal was one of the worst they had ever seen! That's about to be a thing of the past, along with the carpet on the walls in the old retro terminal. Now residents want to know if the new terminal will fix the old problems.
" I'm excited that this facility is going to be opening in December," said Wichita Falls Mayor Glenn Barham. "I can't wait for the day to get here."
Mayor Barham is ready to see flights take off from the new Wichita Falls airport terminal.
"I think they're going to be so impressed with what we have here that it's going to make a difference," the Mayor said. "I think it will make a very huge difference to the community. I think that the first impression of Wichita Falls when they come into this facility is going to be overwhelming."
The new terminal plan started in 2009. That's when the Federal Aviation Administration officials came to Wichita Falls and saw a desperate need for a better situation.
"Within an hour of getting there, the FAA fully committed to the project. They saw the need," says Wichita Falls Aviation & Transportation Director John Burrus. "In fact, their exact words were, the old terminal building was the worst terminal they had in their five state region."
That recognition, put Wichita Falls on the runway for a new $32 million facility, that is full of hopes for the future.
Wichita Falls residents have heard the City say a new terminal could attract a new carrier, offering the flying public more options. The time is here, and residents want to know which airlines will be behind the ticket counters at the new terminal.
"Our goal is to get a second carrier, which will cause our emplanement to go up," said Mayor Barham. "We would also like to see more charter flights coming in and out of Wichita Falls. With this facility, they'll be able to."
Right now, American Eagle is the only carrier providing service to Wichita Falls. It only fly's to DFW airport.
While the new building has ample room for a second carrier, it can't attract a second airline all on its own.
Landing another airline will mean flying into a hub other than DFW.
"If we can get the local businesses to commit half of their travel dollars to using a new hub such as Denver we will then get pledges, I guess if you would, as to this is how much money we would commit to that," said Burrus. "We'll then go to Denver International Airport and work with their airport administration and show them that hey, we have a need here in Wichita Falls for another hub. I think that is going be our best route in getting a second carrier in Wichita Falls."
The more immediate goal, is boosting the number of people who fly in and out of the falls.
"The economy has stabilized. It's beginning to pick back up and more and more people are traveling," said Mayor Barham.
At its peak, 86,000 people flew in and out of the old terminal. In the middle of the recession those numbers dropped to 36,000 people. Within the last year it was back up towards 50,000. But, the new airport will give travelers a new experience.
"I think we'll see a day when we are back to 80,000 to 90,000 emplanements out of this facility," said the Mayor.
"Studies that we've conducted, show that over 100,000 people fly out of DFW or Oklahoma City instead of using Wichita Falls. So basically, one third of the emplanements that occur in this region only occur in this building. So we've got a lot of growth potential there," said Burrus.
New features include, a USO room to let traveling soldiers, who are dropped off at the airport before it opens, get into the building. It gets them out of the weather to wait to catch their flight. There is also a Meditation Center. If a traveler wishes for some time in a quiet place to say a prayer or reflect before travel. Even the bathrooms are up to date with a place to put your carry-on while you take care of business. However, city officials know none of that will make a difference if customer service doesn't improve.
"We just need to do a better job of providing customer service with the carrier we've got," says Burrus. "We're going to be working with American Eagle a lot more closely or closely and I think that that's where we're going to make a difference."
This was an expensive project, but it is important to note that 90-percent of the cost, is paid for by the FAA. The other 10-percent comes from a bond that will be paid off in 20 years. The first payment was just made in September.