Deep in the 1988 federal budget are two paragraphs authorizing the Federal Aviation Administration to spend $25 million on a new "industrial" airport near Fort Worth that the agency says is not needed.
Recommendations to fund the North Fort Worth Airport were included in a conference report accompanying last month's $603.9 billion spending bill at the request of House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.).
Wright, who has represented the Fort Worth area in Congress since 1954, says the airport, less than 20 miles from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, represents an innovative way of using federal dollars to spur economic development.
"This will be the first industrial airport, the first airport from the beginning designed to cater to manufacturing rather than strictly passenger movement," said Marshall Lynam, Wright's chief of staff. "The large number of aerospace and high-tech companies in Fort Worth and Dallas make this an ideal location."
Under the plan, thousands of acres of Tarrant County pastureland would be turned into an industrial park, with the new airport capable of handling 747 jumbo jets and huge military transports as its centerpiece and magnet.
The 350-acre airport site would be donated to the city of Fort Worth by H. Ross Perot Jr., aeronautical enthusiast and son of the Dallas billionaire, whose investment group owns 16,300 acres surrounding the proposed site.
But to get the FAA to move on the project, legislation was needed to broaden the criteria under which the agency can commit federal funds to building an airport.
Hugh Lyon, assistant manager of the FAA's airports division in the Southwest, said in an interview earlier that there is no aeronautical need for such an airport. "Until now, we have been limited to do that which has been documented as necessary for aeronautical purposes. This would require us to build an airport based on the economic stimulus it would provide instead," Lyon said.
Lyon said the FAA had been searching for 10 years to find a site for a general aviation reliever airport in northeast Tarrant County, which he said would cost the government $4 million to $5 million.
"What they elected to do was seek special legislation to change the criteria FAA follows to allow for construction of a demonstration project based on economic development rather than aeronautical reasons," Lyon said.
Under the Perot plan, the city of Fort Worth would bear all operational costs of the airport and would provide services. Perot would donate the land, which an aide said is worth between $7 million and $10 million, and the federal government would provide the funds to build the airport.