From barbecue to football, residents in Texas like to say everything there is the "biggest and the bestest." Sugar Land Regional Airport near Houston, however, backs up the sentiment with stats and evidence.

Its $24.5 million general aviation complex spans 54 acres, with 99 T-hangars nested in six buildings. The hangar banks include an air-conditioned pilot lounge and restrooms; and hangar doors can be opened with standby generator power in an emergency.

The complex is one-of-a-kind, says Bijan Jamalabad, P.E., Aviation Division director of engineering at the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Jamalabad managed construction of the project, which spanned from 2000 to 2009. TxDOT provided $17.08 million in grant funding; nearly $7.5 million came from airport revenues and bond sales.

In addition to serving active corporate and general aviation markets, Sugar Land Regional serves as a general reliever airport for the Houston Airport System. In March, its crews handled nearly 6,600 operations.

An Airport in the Making

Corporate and general aviation customers now have a self-serve fuel option in addition to full-service fueling.
When the City of Sugar Land purchased the airport from oral surgeon Donald "Doc" Hull in December 1990, officials knew changes would be needed. A business plan was created for the self-sustaining airport under the direction of Phillip Savko, who became the airport's director of aviation in 1998. Most of the airport's revenue is derived from fuel sales, Savko explains, but it also owns and operates Global Select, a fixed-base operator that was named No. 1 in the Americas for the past two years by Aviation International News.

With a business plan in place, the community, city manager, city council, congressional district, the FAA and TxDOT have been "very supportive" about attracting more business to the airport and region, Savko reports.

"Sugar Land has done a remarkable job in making general aviation feel welcome," notes Ben Guttery, senior program manager with FAA's Texas Airports Development Office.

Improvements began in earnest after the city purchased the airport. A new name was selected to reflect the city's ownership and a broader, regional focus; a 20,000-square-foot corporate aviation terminal was opened; an air traffic control tower was built, and U.S. Customs service was added.

factsfigures

Project: T-hangar General Aviation Complex

Total Cost: $24.5 million

Highlights: 2 over-water taxiway bridges, 99 nested T-hangars, backup generator power for hangar doors, air-conditioned restrooms within the hangar banks & self-service fuel station

Funding: TxDOT Aviation Division Grant ($17.08 million), Sugar Land Development Grant Corporation ($90,000) & Airport Revenues/Bond Sales ($7.5 million)

Discretionary Funding: FAA

Timeline: 2000 - 2009

Project Mgt. - Land Acquisition/Phase 1 & 2 Construction: TX Dept. of Trans Aviation Div.

Site Engineer: KSA Engineers

Wetlands Permit: Corps of Engineers

Pilot Amenities Design: Edwards Associates, PLLC - Architects

Phase 1 Contractor: South Coast Construction

Bridge Design: Tamborello Engineering

Phase 2 Contractor: W.W. Webber

Fencing: Anchor Fence

Card Key System: DSX Access Systems

Electric Gate Opener: HySecurity

Phase 3 Contractor: SpawGlass Civil Construction

Phase 3 Project Management: City of Sugar Land

Hangars: OSI Building Systems

Hangar Doors: Hi-Fold Doors

Standby Power Contractor: EAS Contracting, LP

Standby Generator: Baldor Generators

Self-fueling Station: Eastern Aviation Fuels

Self-service Fuel Terminal: QT Technologies

Weather information: WSI

The T-hangar complex allows the airport to consolidate its smaller general aviation services in one location, away from jet activity, explains the airport's assistant aviation director, Anne Gaines.

Immediately prior to the project, there were 65 small hangars on 10 acres. There had been 56 Port-a-Port hangars (14 with sliding doors), but five were destroyed during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Most of the surviving hangars had dirt floors, and leaseholders endured standing water and ants, Gaines recalls. Many were 30 years old, but some were at least 39 years old, she estimates. "They only should have been good for about 10 years," she relates. "Our maintenance department did an excellent job of keeping them standing as long as they did."

In addition to replacing all of the hangars, the airport replaced the taxilanes that provide access to the hangars. The previous lanes were very narrow (just wide enough to taxi an airplane) and in poor condition, she recalls.

While removing the hangars was necessary to make way for a new corporate taxilane currently under construction, finding a new location for them was no easy matter.

Originally, the airport looked to build on the airport's west side, but vehicles would have had to drive on the perimeter road around the end of the runway for access - an arrangement the FAA would not approve. Savko then suggested locating the general aviation complex between a body of water and a highway on the east side, on land owned by the Texas General Land Office. It, however, was designated for non-aviation use on the airport layout plan (ALP).

A TxDOT Aviation grant subsequently covered the cost of altering the ALP, and additional grant money from TxDOT Aviation and the Sugar Land Development Corporation allowed the airport to purchase land from the Texas General Land Office in 2001 and hire engineering design consultant KSA Engineers. In the past 10 years, KSA has planned and designed more than $43 million in improvements at the airport.

KSA Sugar Land division manager Craig Phipps, P.E., says the firm's biggest challenge occurred about 10 years ago, when the airport asked KSA to help plan about 100 acres of airport property suitable for revenue-generating general aviation facilities.

"With limited property, it was critical that every acre be optimized," Phipps recalls.

In conjunction with airport staff, KSA prepared multiple conceptual layouts and incorporated the final land development plan into the ALP.

Accessing the T-hangar complex required crossing a large oxbow lake (a crescent shaped body of water formed when the meander of a stream or river is cut off from the main flow). Crossing the water, in turn, required permits from the Corps of Engineers and wetlands mitigation.

KSA designed two taxiway bridges to minimize the project's impact on the wetlands. Factoring in the shadows of the bridges and the piers installed in the water, the project impacted three acres of wetlands, which meant the airport was required to mitigate 27 other acres. With no land to spare on airport property, 30 acres of farmland at the entrance to Brazos Bend State Park were purchased and restored back to wetlands. KSA estimates this option saved the airport about $5 million. It also earned it a second-place TxDOT environmental achievement award in 2007.

Pre-Hangar Necessities

Two phases of construction made way for the hangars. Phase 1 began in 2004 and included the bridges and extensive drainage work. South Coast Construction was the general contractor.

The bridges, designed by Tamborello Engineering Co., are both 80 feet wide and built on 16-inch square concrete piles that are up to 60 feet long. The 527-foot-long bridge required 99 concrete piles; the shorter 385-foot bridge needed 72.

Although one bridge would have been sufficient for the small aircraft that use the complex, two bridges were specified to provide larger aircraft that mistakenly enter the complex a safe way to exit, explains Gaines.

To meet local drainage requirements and accommodate future development, KSA prepared a master drainage plan with a regional detention pond and sufficiently sized storm sewer culverts. The regional detention pond was incorporated into the oxbow lake to temporarily hold storm water runoff. Detention was added above the normal water pool elevation, notes Phipps, so excess water from storms can recede back to normal levels in 24 to 48 hours.

Phase 2, led by general contractor W.W. Webber, entailed earthwork, landscaping, roadway construction, airfield and roadway lighting, fencing, underground utilities, water service, wastewater systems and electrical work.

Considerable concrete work, chronicles Savko, included a 15-acre general aviation apron, two taxiways (each 1,000+ feet long), more than 3,000 feet of airport access road and a 50-space parking lot.

Connecting the general aviation complex with the airport's existing taxiway and runway required substantial earthwork, because the site had to be raised three to four feet.

99 & Counting

Phase 3 hangar construction was managed by the city's senior project manager, David Gaines, and funded by $4.4 million in airport revenues.

General contractor SpawGlass Civil Construction built the hangars, which were designed and manufactured by OSI Building Systems, a pre-engineered metal building manufacturer.

Six hangar banks/buildings of various sizes are aligned in a row. The smallest measure 52 feet by 400 feet; the largest are 69 feet by 385 feet.

OSI custom built the hangars to meet the airport's specifications. The widest, notes Bruce Herbitter, vice president of operations at OSI, are three feet wider than the industry standard. The increased span accommodates Cessna 414s and 421s, which are popular at the airport, explains Gaines.

The hangars are made of high-strength low-alloy steel columns and rafters, with secondary steel framing. The walls and roofs are roll-formed sheeting. OSI provided matching steel mounting points and integrated the Hi-Fold Doors.

Each hangar has its own electric bifold door. Banks A and B have 18 hangars with 42-foot-wide doors, C and D have 17 hangars with 44-foot-wide doors, E has 15 hangars with 48-foot-wide doors, and F has 14 hangars with 51-foot-wide doors. The doors span nearly the entire width of each hangar and fold up to provide a canopy of shade, notes Gaines.

Because the electric doors wouldn't open if the airport lost power, EAS Contracting added a standby generator from Baldor Generators. According to Savko, Sugar Land Regional is the first non-commercial airport to receive FAA funding for standby power generators for airfield and terminal operations. The airport demonstrated the critical need to keep the airport operational during past hurricane seasons, when chartered planes were used to evacuate Galveston and the greater Houston area. Now a generator stands ready to open T-hangar doors and power runway lights, taxiway lights and navigational aids during a power outage.

Adding Amenities

Though he's admittedly biased, Savko says he doesn't believe a better T-hangar development can be found.

"It's very, very upscale," he says, detailing the amenities within the hangar banks. Inside the southeast corner of hangar Bank F, near the parking lot, is an air-conditioned 24-foot square pilot lounge and flight planning area, with a 12-foot square shower-equipped restroom. The lounge has a television, reclining chairs and kitchenette. The flight planning area is equipped with a wireless Internet connection and WSI Pilotbrief, which provides weather information, radar and satellite imagery.

When designing the space, Edwards Associates, PLLC - Architects used earth tone colors with natural stone and ceramic materials. "We tried to continue the warmth and richness of the Texas style found in the airport terminal," relates architect Richard Edwards.

While the space is relatively small, Edwards notes, it doesn't seem cramped. "It gives pilots a relaxing place to sit before they hit the Houston traffic," he relates.

Having experienced airport restrooms without air conditioning, or airports with no restrooms at all, Savko suggested supplementing the facilities in the pilots lounge with two additional air-conditioned restrooms on the east ends of hangar banks A and C. Outfitted with porcelain, tumbled marble tile flooring and granite countertops, the bathrooms are "really beautiful for a utilitarian space," comments Gaines.

Meeting Standards Inside & Out

Edwards Associates, PLLC - Architects, working in consultation with KSA, specified black canvas awnings over entrances and split-face masonry to draw attention to the three public areas within the complex.

Global Select customer service and marketing manager Jodie Kaluza says motorists driving by on Texas State Highway 6 can see that the development is attractive and beautifully landscaped.

Savko explains that the airport invested in the exterior design to ensure that the quality was consistent with the city's standards. To produce a unified, upscale look, it further required hangar exteriors to meet color, finish and quality standards.

Inside the hangars, standards were set for clearances from the wingtip, nose and tail of aircraft to protect the assets of the airport and leaseholders alike.

And There's More

In addition to 99 T-hangars, the airport's general aviation complex includes a self-fueling station with a 12,000-gallon tank, an 80-foot square private hangar with offices, and a power vault for mast lighting and high-voltage edge lighting. The project also provided pad sites for seven additional hangars, two of which are already leased.

The 24-hour self-service station lets pilots fuel up with Shell Aviation Avgas any time they need to - even on holidays, notes Darrell Phillips, regional salesman for Eastern Aviation Fuels. The M3000 fuel terminal from QT Technologies accepts all major credit cards. While the airport also provides full-service fueling, self-serve fuel is offered at a discount.

The complex is surrounded by six-foot high powder-coated aluminum fencing from Anchor Fence. Access to the two gate openings is controlled through a card-key system from DSX Access Systems. Once access is granted, a HySecurity electric gate opener rolls the gate open.

"Everyone worked very hard to make sure this project was done to the level and detail it needed to provide another area we can grow general aviation," Savko concludes.