Nueces County leaders last week met with officials from the Texas Department of Transportation in an effort to help boost state funding for the county's airport in Robstown.
At the Sept. 23 meeting in Corpus Christi, Precinct 1 County Commissioner Mike Pusley gave a brief presentation about the airport to representatives from TxDOT. During a portion of his presentation about the airport's needs, including the absence of a proper terminal and the need for a longer runway, Pusley was stopped when he mentioned the airport's lack of a credit card machine, which would allow for the sale of fuel outside of the airport's normal business hours.
Increasing fuel sales is a goal that needs to be realized for the airport to succeed, Pusley has said.
"Don't you have credit card capabilities at your airport?" asked TxDOT representative Michelle Hannah.
"No, we do not," Pusley said. "I just said we're probably the only airport that doesn't have a credit card machine."
"I thought we saw a credit card reader for the airport," replied TxDOT representative Megan Caffel.
"Oh, it's there. It's just never been hooked up," Pusley replied.
"But didn't we fund it under grant?" Caffel asked.
"Probably so, yes," Pusley answered.
"That's a big note in my (book)," Hannah said.
"I agree. It's a big note in my (book), too," Pusley replied.
The airport's manager, Manuel Flores, said in July that the year-long delay in getting the credit card machine installed stems from the need to get the system's network authenticated and activated by a bank, Flores said. The infrastructure for the system is already in place, he added.
"Everything is good to go, we're just waiting to get it activated," Flores said.
On Monday, County Judge Loyd Neal said the county's purchasing agent, auditor and attorney were working to figure out how to get the machine installed as soon as possible.
"(Credit card fuel sales are) going to happen and we need it to happen out there," Neal said. "It is high on everybody's list."
Hannah then chided the county for taking so long to have the credit card machine installed after it had been funded by the state.
"The credit card thing, I don't know what the deal is, but we helped you all fund it," Hannah said. "There are some initiating fees to get those things running that you have to pay. But I will tell you to do it, because you will probably more than pay for it when your fuel sales increase once you put that in."
Also, TxDOT was introduced to some of the members of the newly-formed airport advisory board for Nueces County. However, while TxDOT officials lauded the reformation of the board, they cautioned that the county would need a strong central leader at the airport in order to deal effectively with the state.
"I'm very pleased that you all have an airport board," Hannah said. "What you need to also have is a very strong airport management person - one single contact, not airport run by committee.
"You need to have a very strong, single-source person managing that airport."
Pusley agreed, adding that he feels the airport's current management may not be up to the job.
"I hope that our advisory board can come back and say, 'Obviously, our airport management there is lacking,'" Pusley said. "In all fairness to the guy who's there now (Flores), he's a maintenance guy. He's not an airport manager and I don't think he was ever intended to be, so it's basically lingered on."
One solution may be to hire a fixed base operator to run the airport, which is usually a private firm contracted to handle the day-to-day operations of the facility, including fuel sales and plane rentals. However, Hannah warned the county to be cautious when hiring an FBO because it is a private company.
"An FBO is going to be taking care of the FBO, not the citizens or the taxpayers," Hannah said. "So, there's conflict of interest that has to do with who has control of that airport. All I'm saying is to be very careful."
Pusley said he hopes all of the improvements proposed will be heavily considered by TxDOT, adding that they may provide a chance for more revenue for the county and its taxpayers.
"It could have major, major implications on development in the Robstown/Nueces County areas," he said.