Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ocala International Airport (KOCF) flying high with plans for new terminal

Upgrade plans for the Ocala International Airport include building a new terminal, adding hangar space and, eventually, putting in a new taxiway and apron to accommodate heavier aircraft. Construction of the new terminal is scheduled to begin in July 2018.

The Ocala International Airport has come a long way from its beginnings more than 50 years ago, when the site on Southwest 60th Avenue was a peanut and watermelon field.

The facility, also known as Ocala International Airport-Jim Taylor Field, spans 1,500 acres, has a 7,400 foot runway, a $3 million tower and 25 private and airport operated hangers. It soon will have a new $5.3 million terminal, which will more than double the size of the original terminal.

The airport replaced the airstrip that once was located where the Ocala Target store now sits. That site dates back to 1927, when Ruperty Cavanas persuaded Jim Taylor to donate land to the city of Ocala for development of an airport, according to the city’s website.

Ocala International Airport is owned and operated by the city of Ocala. A five-member Airport Advisory Board is appointed by the Ocala City Council. A full-time director and staff of four manage the airport. The airport serves general aviation, corporate aviation, the air cargo industry and accommodates flight training.

“We thrive on being a top-notch, general aviation airport, said Matt Grow, the director.

General aviation means the airport provides all services of a traditional airport except scheduled commercial flights. The airport oversees about 65,000 landings and takeoffs a year from aircraft weighing as little as 1,000 pounds to Boeing 757s weighing 255,000 pounds and fully loaded.

Among the coming changes are that the original terminal will be demolished and the rental car operation will be moved to the new 17,500-square-foot terminal. The airport’s fixed wing operator, Sheltair Aviation, will move into the new terminal and overhaul its current building.

Bids for the work will be opened in January. Construction is scheduled to begin in July 2018 and be completed and move-in ready by July 2019.

“The new terminal will give us a lot more flexibility,” Grow said.

The airport generates about $1.2 million annually and uses about $850,000 for annual operating expenses. The difference is used to pay mostly for capital projects, such as the new terminal.

And, as with most Ocala airport projects, Grow garnered grants and made other deals to pay for the bulk of the cost of the new terminal.

The Florida Department of Transportation will pay $2.5 million for the project. Sheltair will chip in $2 million, in exchange for 3,500 square feet of office space. The airport will pay up $800,000 for its share. The total cost is expected to come in at $5.3 million.

The new, single-story terminal will house the rental car service, expanded restaurant, meeting and banquet rooms, Sheltair and the administrative offices.

Grow said the original 6,000-square-foot terminal, which houses the rental car businesses, cannot be salvaged. It is a cinderblock building that was not designed to ever be expanded.

The current Sheltair building, leased to the aviation company by the airport, will be renovated by Sheltair and used primarily as space for the current flight school and for office space.

The airport is required by federal law to earmark money generated by the airport for only airport purposes. That means money generated by the airport cannot be used for other city government projects. It also means the airport has to charge at least market rates when it leases or sells property to other government departments.

With revenues from leases, airport hangar fees and a portion of fuel sales, “the airport is financially self-sufficient. We are not a drain on the general fund. Not at all,” Grow said.

Airport officials created preliminary designs for the new terminal in 2005, and again in 2008. The plan was scrapped when the recession hit and use of the airport declined.

As the economy improved and more people began to fly, Grow said the airport again looked at the financial feasibility of a new terminal.

He said the airport enjoys a nice mix of use. The bulk of airplanes are small, private planes, and there are many student pilots, he said. In the long run, he added, some of those student pilots eventually become commercial pilots who will fly commercial planes into and out of the airport.

The airport sees about 100 large charter planes annually. Those are made up of Boeing 727s bringing in horses for sale at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company across 60th Avenue and Boeing 757s carrying people. That does not include large private jets, Grow said.

As for the future, Grow expects demands on the airport to increase as more businesses like FedEx, AutoZone and Chewy Inc. set up distribution centers or manufacturing here. He estimates the airport will need the terminal to have an additional 8,000 square feet in 10 years. The new terminal is designed so it will be easy to expand, he said.

He also has a wait list of 20 pilots who want hangar space and said he plans to add another 20 to 25 hangar units in 2020.

In the long term, Grow said, he also wants to attract more and larger planes. Part of that goal is to attract international Boeing 767 planes bringing in horses from around the world. To do that, the airport will need a new and wider taxiway and apron. The current one east of the main runway is too narrow and already needs repaving.

The new taxiway and apron could be built in sections and west of the runway, with the first part paid for by the airport and used to attract federal and state grants to help pay for the rest, Grow said. A new taxiway and apron would cost $12 million.

“It would open the west side of the airport for heavy airport operations and also accommodate the current equine demand for horse business,” he said.

Some of the funding could come from land sales within the airport property. There currently are 150 acres for sale west of the main runway and buildings. Any new owners of the property would benefit from being so close to air transportation and the airport benefits from additional customers due to the new business, Grow said.

He hopes to build a small section of a new taxiway within five years and apply for grants after that.

In the meantime, repaving the existing taxiway will cost about $3.5 million, with all but about $200,000 coming from federal and Florida state grants. That work is slated for 2019.

Other possible projects could include lengthening the airport’s 3,000 foot long crosswind east/west runway by an additional 891 feet to each end.

Even with all the changes, there remains the question: Will there ever be scheduled, commercial flights arriving and leaving from the airport?

Grow said he would welcome a major carrier but with nine surrounding airports already providing that service, the wait could be a long one.

Ocala Councilman Jay Musleh said the goal is to make Ocala a destination and that a new terminal will attract more airplanes and the visitors and investors they carry.

“This new terminal really gives us a chance to be on the map,” he said.

Popular equestrian events such as the annual weeks-long Horse Shows in the Sun, or HITS series, and a planned World Equestrian Center and its associated residential communities, will generate more demand for air travel and the new terminal fits nicely into that mix, Musleh said.

“Matt (Grow) has done a fantastic job and has become a very strong advocate for Ocala and for the airport,” Musleh added. “We’re very fortunate to have him.”

Original article can be found here ➤

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