One of North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field’s largest users is withdrawing from Texoma. After several years of operation, US Aviation Academy is moving out of its building at NTRA and will be ceasing training at the airport.
The move by US Aviation comes following a shift by the company toward domestic flight training and away from the training of foreign pilots.
"It is one of the first COVID-19 casualties for our business community here in Grayson County," Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said Thursday.
Calls to US Aviation Executive Vice President Mark Taylor for comment on the move were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.
Magers said the company is currently closing its NTRA location and will be consolidating much of its training to its Denton academy.
In March, Taylor told the Herald Democrat that he planned to shift training at NTRA to include more domestic pilots. Traditionally, the flight school has used NTRA to primarily train pilots out of Asia, with a large number coming from China.
It was at about this time that NTRA Airport Director Mike Livezey said officials with US Aviation approached the airport with plans to consolidate.
"I don’t care if it is pilots of widgets, if you are importing from China right now, for a lot of different reason including COVID-19 to trade tariffs, it is a pretty difficult business to be in," Magers said.
With the ongoing health crisis, Magers said the pipeline of prospective pilots from Asia has slowed to the point that it doesn’t make sense to continue operations at NTRA.
"He told me that the Chinese are reticent to send their children here with all the political strife that is going on," he said. "It didn’t make sense for them to continue operations here."
In March, Livezey said that the NTRA flight school had received its last class of students from Asia in late 2019. However, with the current health crisis he was uncertain when or if it would receive more students.
Despite move out of NTRA physically, Magers said he did not expect US Aviation’s presence to fully leave the airport.
While the flight school will be moving to Denton, it will continue to do touch-and-go stops at NTRA, as Denton is too busy for these type of operations.
"We are going to lose the fuel revenue, obviously, we are going to lose some level of operations," he said.
Likewise, Magers said there could be potential partnerships between the flight school and Grayson College, but these would likely be aimed more at the domestic flight side.
Magers declined to comment on a prospective tenant for the US Aviation building and directed the question to airport staff. However, he said officials are "actively pursing other options."
"There is office space there, hangar space there, so you’d want to find someone who wants to start operations here at NTRA," he said.
Livezey said the US Aviation had leased two buildings at NTRA. In the two months since US Aviation announced its plans, the airport has shown the facility to prospective tenants, and has one tenant who has expressed interest in the larger facility.
"We have had great interest in one of the facilities they did have, and they are willing to lease that space once it becomes available," he said.
Livezey declined to comment on who the tenant is, citing ongoing negotiations, but said the operation would use the hangar space, office space and purchase fuel at the airport.Despite the loss of one of the major tenants at NTRA, Magers said the departure may open other opportunities for development.
While the airport would often tout the number of operations it received due to the presence of US Aviation, Magers said other potential tenants stayed away due to the presence of a flight school.
"While we are losing a client, we may be able to go after other clients who may have not considered NTRA because we had a flight school here," he said.
With the departure, Livezey said this could open the airport to some corporate-style air traffic.
In 2016, officials with the U.S. National Aerobatic Championship announced that they would not be returning to the airport in 2017 and would relocate the competition to another airport.
At the time, airport officials noted that the operations from US Aviation may have played a part in that decision.
"There are some who believe that because we had a flight training school here, it kept others away from the airport," Magers said.
In the short term, Livezey said he did not expect the loss to impact many of the programs, which include some that are based on the number of operations that are conducted each year at the airport.
Among these programs is the Federal Aviation Administration’s Contract Tower program, which moved the responsibility for staffing the airport’s control tower to the FAA. However, Livezey said that the airport is in the program is in the program and is still among the airports with the highest usage in the program.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.