On any given day citizens of Commerce are likely to hear the buzz of a small plane flying over the skies. Many citizens may think little of the gentle hum as it fades in the distance, but for those intrigued by overcoming gravity to suspend oneself in the air, it’s hard not to look up.
Unfortunately, for quite sometime, the view from the pilot seat looking at the Commerce Municipal Airport was less than exhilarating. With a weathered runway, inadequate runway lights and no path indicator lighting, the airport was not an ideal destination for many doing business, visiting or just stopping to refuel. The airport was certainly not a source of pride for the community. According to Bonnie Hunter, director of the Commerce Economic Development Corporation, “Our airport has not always been a positive factor when discussing air travel at the local level. However, the recent improvements will enhance our efforts in recruiting companies interested in flying in and out of the communities where their businesses are located; as well as provide a better service to those already here. The A&M System has not landed at the Commerce Airport for several years due to the condition of the runway. We hope that will change. We are very grateful for the TxDOT grant and the support of our community partners. Commerce now has an airport that can be an asset as we work to attract new business and industry.”
Through the efforts of the Commerce Airport Advisory Board, City Manager & Director of Community Development, a TxDOT Grant with matching funds was applied for and awarded to the City of Commerce benefiting the local aviation hub. The $2,272,528 dollar grant required a matching investment of 10% by the community applying. Texas A&M University-Commerce, the Commerce EDC and the City of Commerce partnered to meet the matching funds requirement. Following several months of work, the Commerce Municipal Airport was reopened on October 13th, 2015.
Improvements from the TxDOT grant included; a resurfaced runway, apron and new turnarounds on both the north & south ends of the runway; a new parking area; new pavement markings; newly installed precision approach path indicator lights; a partial new taxi-way, pilot-controlled LED runway lighting, and a new LED Airport Beacon. The airport advisory board would like to have extended the runway and made additional improvements, but according to Russell Armstrong, an Airport Advisory Board member and local pilot, “TxDOT told us when we were applying for the grant that the initial request could only provide funds to bring the failing airport back up to standards.”
“If we did not take steps to improve the condition of the airport, we could have very easily lost it in the near future. The runway sub-grade could deteriorate to the point where the repair costs involved would be too cost prohibitive versus building a complete new runway, and TxDOT would not have approved that type of capital outlay for Commerce.”
According to Mr. Armstrong, the asphalt was cracking so severely that grass was growing through parts of the runway and the propellers were actually clipping the top of the grass when taxiing out. Also, small pieces of asphalt rock were being sucked through the prop, dulling and damaging the plane’s propellers. The poor runway was a safety concern as well as costly for pilots. The runway lights were so dim that at night you could barely make out the location of the runway. Now, the runway lighting is excellent and the new path indicator lights are in place and assist pilots in descending on the proper glide slope as they approach the runway.
Mr. Armstrong stated he is thrilled with the recent upgrades, but believes there are a few more safety upgrades that should be considered in the next grant request. Top on his list is an Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS), a GPS area survey that will mark all of the towers & obstacles around Commerce which will result in the FAA installing precision instrument approaches to the runway from both the north & south with electronic (auto pilot) glide slopes, possibly relocating the fuel farm off of the main taxi-way, and as a new revenue source for the City; constructing new T-Hangars to provide much needed hangar space for area pilots.
One thing is for sure, whether Commerce receives future grants or not, the airport has been significantly improved and has become a showpiece for Commerce, TX.