Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Engineer says Apalachicola Regional Airport (KAAF) future looks bright

At Cleve Randolph Field, hangar occupancy is at a high point and government money has been secured to fund updates and refurbishment for the 70-year-old facility.

At Tuesday’s county meeting, Lee Lewis. spokesman for AVCON, engineering consultant to Apalachicola Regional Airport, said he sees the beginnings of an economic rebound there.

Lewis said when AVCON took over as engineering consultant in 2008, small airports across the country saw an economic downturn that is showing signs of ending, with the greatest area of recovery in business-type aircraft.

He described many recent improvements to the airport including repairs to the decades-old pavement aprons. “We repaired holes you could have parked a car in,” Lewis said.

He said the county’s corporate hangar is a major asset in drawing new business to the airport, despite that it has been “somewhat underutilized.

“Nobody wants to wait 18 months to (relocate a business),” he said. “It gets us in the game.”

He said that, for the first time since AVCON became consultants to the county, all of the T-hangars at the airport are rented, with a waiting list. He said more than $4.5 million in construction is now under grant.

Lewis said the county has secured both federal and state transportation funding for updates including improvements to the airport’s stormwater control system, which dates back to WorldWar II.

More projects will kick off next month, he said.

The airport’s current lighting system, buried cable powering incandescent lights, will be replaced by LED lights powered by cable running through conduit. This will reduce the cost of lighting and provide more protection for buried cable vulnerable to damage by ants and other natural hazards.

Lewis said the new access road will allow visitors to access airport facilities without driving on the runways.

County Planner Alan Pierce said he expects two of the existing three runways to stay in use but said an evaluation by state transportation officials determined the two runways in regular use are all that is needed to handle current traffic.

“We can’t get money to maintain the third runway because they say we don’t need it,” said Pierce. Lewis said the third runway might eventually be used as a taxiway.

Pierce agreed the state is very supportive of airport development here because it would be impossible to build an airport as large in a rural setting in today’s business environment.

Lewis said the state is trying to provide money to “jumpstart” Randolph Field.

Lewis said AVCON is now partnering with engineering consultants BRPH of Melbourne, and he introduced BRPH economic development professional Beth Kirkland, who he said will represent BRPH in the county.

 According to her webpage, Kirkland is a 2000 Leadership Tallahassee graduate who has led the Florida Economic Development Council, Tallahassee Ballet and the local chapter of the American Heart Association. She served as director of business retention and expansion for the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/ LeonCounty, Inc.

Lewis said he hopes the county can partner with Gulf County to seek a portion of the $1.5 billion in BP restitution money slated for distribution to the eight Panhandle counties through Triumph Gulf Coast, an economic recovery initiative for areas most affected by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

He asked commissioners to support in seeking those funds, and to support AVCON in returning to the state to ask for funds for a selective study of economic development for the airport.

“I have been working on this BP money for a while. All I can say is there are an awful lot of people after that money,” said Commissioner William Massey.

Commissioner Smokey Parrish said he would support any program that could lead to regional job development as long as the industry remained environmentally-friendly.

“This is a very positive report. We have a great possibility to maximize this asset,” said Commissioner Rick Watson.

Commissioner Noah Lockley was more skeptical. “I know you have to do studies but I want to see results. We have a lot of people who need some work. That’s what I want to see,” he said.

Parrish said he would like to see Airport Manager Jason Puckett of Crystal Air involved in the economic planning process. “I am excited about the possibility of economic development,” said Puckett.

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