Victoria County Commissioners paid $39,500 for a study of the airport Monday.
The airport for years has only been able to attract mom-and-pop-type airlines to fly residents to Houston, said Commissioner Clint Ives, Precinct 4.
“This isn’t just a local phenomenon; this is being felt nationwide,” Ives said, adding that Memphis, Tenn., is experiencing similar problems.
The study, which has yet to be finalized, identifies Victoria’s travel needs and is a marketing tool, he said.
The county’s contract with Sun Air International ends Sept. 30, and the Federal Aviation Administration is accepting essential air service bids until mid-April, said County Judge Don Pozzi.
Nearly 70 percent of area businesses are not using the Victoria Regional Airport, 609 Foster Field Drive, according to Seabury Airline Planning Group’s preliminary findings.
Those who are using it want to fly to Houston or Dallas. It is unclear how many people responded to Seabury’s survey. It was either sent by email or direct mail, and only a small percentage replied, Pozzi said.
Commissioners also sent an $11,850 bill to the city of Victoria, which agreed last year to pay for 30 percent of the study’s cost.
Councilman Tom Halepaska was against picking up the tab, though.
“I felt like the county should have reciprocated and did a portion of our retail study,” he said.
The city of Victoria’s retail study, published last week, revealed Victoria lacks clothing retailers and sit-down dining.
Halepaska, who has been a licensed pilot since he was 18 years old, is hopeful now that the airport is improving its infrastructure and appraising its excess land. People who have been on a waiting list for a hangar could lease that land and build one themselves, he said.
The airport is also inviting others in the community to use its space, whereas it used to discourage groups, such as the sky diving club in Beeville, from stopping by, he said.
“Aviation is more than just a commuter airline,” Halepaska said. “You’ve got to look at the whole picture. They’re starting to, and I really commend them for that. Perhaps the airport study will confirm my words.”
Halepaska and Ives disagree about whether the airport should be subsidized if no one submits a bid to provide essential air service.
Seabury recommended Victoria follow Beaumont and Del Rio’s lead and “offer hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to an airline to get service,” as it’s become the new norm.
While Halepaska thought subsidies encourage poor performance, Ives thought various entities would need to come together to support the airport financially. He described it as one of the backbones of the local economy.
“The county by itself cannot sustain that kind of hit,” Ives said.