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Fort Worth's Alliance Airport examines its future

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FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The Fort Worth airport built on a former cow pasture is at a crossroads with two major clients leaving, even as the airport's opening helped spur plenty of development around it.

Alliance Airport sparked new retailers, apartment complexes and other development along Interstate 35 in Fort Worth, and the airport itself helps move millions of pounds of cargo every year. But with American Airlines and Bell Helicopter set to leave, and some of the plans for Alliance have not come to fruition more than two decades after its opening, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported (http://bit.ly/XFYp3V ) Thursday.

Officials plan to eventually spend $240 million in federal, state and other funding to reconfigure roads and extend runways.

Tim Ward, president of Alliance Air/Aviation Services, told the newspaper he still considered the project a success.

"Although the airport, in terms of the development around it, hasn't been completed as fast as we perhaps initially envisioned, it truly became a catalyst for everything else around here," Ward said.

American built a maintenance facility at Alliance two years after the airport opened in 1989. FedEx later established a regional shipping hub that still generates plenty of revenue.

But attempts to lure major aerospace companies like Boeing and Airbus have failed.

"We've chased a lot of those big deals," said Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, which developed the airport, a brainchild of Hillwood chairman Ross Perot Jr. "Those projects are few and far between and, when you look at those deals, the state incentives are so high, that's usually what takes it over the edge."

Alliance executives must also deal with American shutting down its maintenance hangar as part of its bankruptcy restructuring. Bell Helicopter is also moving its commercial helicopter customer service center and training academy to new headquarters in Fort Worth.

Officials hope extending runways to 11,000 feet — the longest one is currently 9,600 feet — will accommodate larger planes and more international traffic, and help Alliance compete with Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Terry Clower, an economist at the University of North Texas, said officials could afford to be cautiously optimistic.

"They are certainly going to face some challenges, but because of the success of the rest of Alliance, they can ride this out."

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Information from: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, http://www.star-telegram.com

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