What is an industrial airport? Federal Aviation administrators have been scratching their heads over that one as they puzzle through the latest brainstorm of The Perot Group, Dallas billionaire Ross Perot’s family corporation. And the answer seems to be that it’s an airport dedicated not to people but to things-extremely valuable, fragile things Hike high-tech computer electronics products, aviation parts, and sophisticated defense systems. Right now these things tend to be shipped by air freight. According to the Perot airport concept, the facility will warehouse and assemble these products then air ship them when the; ’re sold.
With Perot be hind it, the proposed airport i north of Fort Worth has Tarrant County business and civic leaders leaping for joy. Spearheaded by Perot’s twenty-nine-year-old son, H. Ross Perot Jr., the project could create 57,000 jobs and enrich the coffers of economically distressed Fort Worth. The Perots have committed $76 million to infrastructure improvements like roads, schools, and utilities.
The airport will be built near Haslet in rural North Tarrant County along the I-35W freeway, about twelve miles northwest of D/FW Airport. Over the last four years the Perots have acquired more than 16,000 acres in this area at an estimated cost of $100 million-more than 90 percent paid in dash. The tab for the project is expected to top $366 million, of which roughly 40 percent will come from Perot. The rest depends on federal, state, and local sources.
Enter Fort Worth Rep. Jim’ Wright, always adept at bringing home the pork. The speaker tacked $25 million for the airport onto the mammoth appropriations bill delivered to President Reagan in January. FAA approval for tapping into a $8.7 billion Airport Improvement Program Fund had been held up because the language governing the fund didn’t recognize anything called an “industrial airport.” Having opened the spigot for the money, Wright and others are now working on the semantic snags.
The Perot Group hopes to begin construction by year’s end, but “it’s still not a done deal,” according to FAA regional planner Gene Faulkner There’s the matter of funding, and there has been opposition from companies now leasing space at Meacham Field. But insiders claim that none of the local issues are likely to derail the project. If the folks in Washington can figure out what an industrial airport is, the project’s chances appear good. Rewriting the rules to include the Perot project is consistent with Reagan’s economic development goals, says Faulkner. “It’s just that the legislative mandate hasn’t been there. This may well be the project to get that done.”