Ellington's Bid For New Embry-Riddle Campus

Ellington Field is often overshadowed by Houston's larger commercial airports, Bush Intercontinental and Hobby. But the former Air Force base is a hive of new activity. That's drawn the interest of one of the world's leading centers of aeronautical education. From the KUHF Business Desk, Andrew Schneider reports.
(Jet takeoff)

That’s the sound of a T-38 trainer jet taking off from Ellington Field. Located just a few miles northwest of Johnson Space Center, Ellington is where NASA’s astronauts go keep current with their flight hours.

The airport may soon become the hub of a much larger effort for flight training. It’s one of two finalists to host the third campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, alongside those in Daytona Beach, Florida and Prescott, Arizona.

jet standing
A view from the entrance to Ellington Field. The jet standing as a "gate guard" is a NASA Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker N930NA, formerly used for zero-G training.

Brian Rinehart is Ellington Airport’s general manager.

“The academic facility would be approximately 90,000 square foot, which is a pretty large campus.”

That alone would bring 100 new jobs to Houston, from professors to aircraft maintenance crew, as well as a massive construction project. But the physical campus is only a small part of what’s at stake.

“We’re anticipating, with their presence here, that there’ll be a quantum leap in the amount of activity that’s going on around here in research and development. The estimated economic impact, with just Embry-Riddle being here, was over $100 million.”

Much of that would come from R&D collaboration between the university and NASA, as well as the dozens of private aerospace companies in the Houston area.

Other sectors stand to benefit as well. Dan Seal is with the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership. Together with the Houston Airport System, the partnership is spearheading the effort to bring Embry-Riddle to Ellington.

“They’re involved in safety. They’re involved in the life sciences, for instance. People would not know that normally. And the ability to locate in an area where they have access to research collaboration partners is very, very important to the university, and that’s really the strong suit that Houston has to offer.”

That’s critical, because Houston’s competition for the new campus is Rockford, Illinois. Rockford is home of aerospace giant Hamilton Sundstrand. Chicago, with Boeing’s head office, is a scant 80 miles away.

“Their community has been working very, very hard and diligently, aggressively, to pursue this location, and so we take that competition very, very seriously.”

The new campus is far from the only deal Ellington is working on. Within two years, the airport will have sixteen major construction projects either completed or well underway. One will be the Lone Star Flight Museum, relocating from its current home in Galveston.

Another, breaking ground next month, is the Coast Guard Regional Headquarters. That’s the latest addition to the Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base. Brian Rinehart puts it in a nutshell.

“We’ve got a lot of people interested in making Ellington a crown jewel.”

If Embry-Riddle joins that list, the new campus could open as early as this fall.

(Jet and helicopter sounds)

From the KUHF Business Desk, I’m Andrew Schneider.
Bio photo of Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Business Reporter

Andrew Schneider joined KUHF in January 2011, after more than a decade as a print reporter for The Kiplinger Letter...