background image
Page 57
AUSTIN EXECUTIVE AIRPORT
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
R
on
W. H
enRiksen
Chapter 3
runway and fifteen years of memories--broke
but not in debt. In return the Campfire Girls
would pony up a pile of cash, paying off the
smaller debts and negotiating IOUs for those
that remained, including a painful give-and-
take with a none too happy Internal Revenue
Service. Any cash left over was intended to
keep the airport afloat until someone won
the lottery.
Under New Ownership
The legal wrangling out of the way, Jerry
and several others took possession of the
airport. They went to the property in one or
more trucks with extra fat tires and enough
clearance to handle the rutted dirt road. After
unlocking the flight office, they made a few
phone calls to introduce themselves to the
flight instructors and mechanics and a hand-
ful of the pilots paying hangar rent.
Thereafter, the Campfire Girls gathered for
sporadic, somewhat unproductive meetings in
Darrow's office, in which each got a turn at
asking the same question: When do we start
making money? Or, they complained about the
condition of the runway (the gravel pit, most
called it), the lack of cash to fill the aviation
fuel tanks and the subsequent lack of fuel rev-
enues (no fuel to sell equals no fuel income),
the general lackadaisical attitude of pilots, and
the slightly crazed cadre of skydivers with their
colorful jump gear who, as it happened, were
now flooding the place like ants. After every-
one had a turn or ran out of steam or admired
the cushy leather chairs, someone would bring
up the impossible-to-navigate-after-a-rain ease-
ment road. Why couldn't someone send a blus-
tering letter on expensive letterhead threaten-
ing action if the neighbors didn't at least fill
the holes in the road?
After nearly a year of paltry revenues and
a lot of expenses, the Campfire Girls put the
airport up for sale. They listed the business
in a trade magazine for airplanes and related
businesses, got one tire kicker, a crop duster
from Louisiana short on cash, and had more
meetings where each voiced the same old
complaints. By then Jerry had a year of airport
management under his belt, mostly spent sit-
ting in the flight office, drinking coffee, and
making long lists of ways the airport could
turn a dime. More than once, he pondered
the idea of buying the airport himself.
On the surface it didn't make any sense.
In fact, buying an airport, Bird's Nest Airport
especially, was a lousy decision--one based
on hope and optimism rather than a judicious
accounting of costs and benefits. If asked,
he'd say he was attracted to the land (now 143
acres, the original 113 plus another triangu-
lar-shaped 30-acre tract Ray had managed to
buy from a neighbor). Raw land was a good
investment, always had been in Jerry's view,
if, that is, you had all the time in the world to
wait for the market to catch up and push up
prices. Or he might share an idea he'd been
considering--hauling in a few dozen trail-
ers and creating a tasteful little trailer park,
one with a clubhouse and laundry facilities.
Or maybe turn the flight office into a general
store, add a barbecue pit and a cedar deck
around the duck pond.
Deep down Jerry Kahlbau was a man of log-
ic who wasn't hapless or uninformed. On the