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Aerobatics competition could return to NTRA for 2021 contest

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Erick McDaniel wipes down a Pitts 200 plane at the 2018 Lone Star Aerobatic Championship at North Texas Regional Airport Perrin Field. Organizers for the contest hope to return to NTRA for the 2021 contest, the first held locally since 2018.

For the first time in nearly three years, North Texas Regional Airport may play host to  an international aerobatics competition.

Representatives with the International Aerobatic Club recently submitted paperwork requesting permission to hold a contest at North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field. The will mark the first time that the Lone Star Contest has been held at NTRA since 2018.

Officials with the IAC listed the reduced traffic at the airport following the departure of the US Aviation Flight Academy as one of the reasons they would like to return for the 2021 Lone Star Contest.

"Everyone really loves to be in Sherman because of the chamber of commerce, the hotels, restaurants and people there all are great," IAC Chapter 24 Preside Tom Rhodes said. 

Previously, NTRA played host to multiple contests affiliated with the IAC, including a nearly 40-year period where it hosted the U.S. National Championships. 

However, this ended in 2016 as traffic at the airport that was primarily driven by the rise of U.S. Aviation, who used the airport as a training ground for many international pilots, with a focus on the Chinese market.

The increase in flight school operations led to some delays and interruptions with the contests. It was decided that 2016 would be the last year that the nationals would be held at NTRA.

"The nationals were held at North Texas Regional in Grayson County back in 2016. Then, because of all the traffic taking place because of training taking place there, we felt like and the airport felt like, we needed to find a new location."

Following the departure, the national were held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for two years, but the event saw similar issues with traffic. Organizers then moved the event to Celina, Kansas for the 2019 contest.

"The nationals probably will not return to Grayson County, which is a shame, because it had been there for about 40 years," Rhodes said.

In the case of the Lone Star Contest, organizers moved the event to Breckenridge, Texas for the 2019 show due to similar concerns. The event was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic also impacted US Aviation and its flow of international students. The academy announced its departure from NTRA earlier this year and has since consolidated many of its operations to its facility in Denton.

With this reduced traffic, Rhodes said the Lone Star Contest should be cleared for flight.

Rhodes estimated that the contest could bring in 30 or more pilots due to a pent-up demand for events. Organizers planned 33 contests in 2020, but only 8 took place due to the pandemic. The contests that did take place saw higher-than-normal participation.

NTRA Airport Manager Mike Livezey confirmed that he has received the request paperwork, but no decision on the contest has been made. The Grayson County Regional Mobility Authority, which met Thursday has yet to approve the paperwork.

Livezey said the contest is not a money maker for the airport, which would see an ever-so-slight increase in fuel cells. However, it might provide a small, one-time boost to the airport's operations, which have dropped since US Aviation's departure.

"It doesn't bring a lot to NTRA, financially, if anything," Livezey said.