Sunday, December 2, 2018

Editorial: New airport going nowhere

Every decade or so, the business leaders of Gainesville approach the business leaders of Ocala looking for help solving a recurring problem: the Gainesville Regional Airport needs more passengers.

The problem is, the Gainesville airport has too few flights going to too few places to attract much of a crowd from Ocala — or Gainesville, for that matter.

Nonetheless, a task force made up of business leaders from the two communities has been meeting over the past couple of months to once again try and figure out how to get more passengers and, hopefully, more flights in and out of the Gainesville airport.

So far, the task force, picked jointly by the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership, agrees the Gainesville airport needs more traffic, passengers and planes. They also agree that because Ocala residents have so many other choices — and the Gainesville airport is on the far northeast side of Gainesville — that not much is likely to change given its present location. For Ocala/Marion County residents, it is not that much farther to go to Orlando or Tampa, where they can fly to just about anywhere in the world, and often on a direct flight and, importantly, for lower fares.

An idea the task force has bandied about is building a new airport between Ocala and Gainesville, providing more convenience to Ocala/Marion County residents and hopefully drawing from a wider region. Again, however, some significant challenges come with that idea.

First, there is the price tag, which some estimate would be $400 million and up. Gainesville has spent millions upon millions in recent years improving its existing airport, and some of that money that is still owed.

Then there is the need for Federal Aviation Administration approval, which would be difficult given the number of airport options already available within less than two hours of Ocala. Besides Tampa and Orlando, there is Jacksonville, Daytona, Sanford and St. Petersburg-Clearwater. And even if FAA approval could be obtained, getting carriers to utilize the new airport would be anything but assured, given the relatively small population of the region.

Finally, when they discuss building a new airport in between Gainesville and Ocala, that really means northern Marion County. We just went through a major public controversy when the state suggested building a highway through the area that is home to the county’s horse industry. Imagine the response to a new airport being proposed.

Studying the feasibility of a new airport does no harm and probably will provide valuable data. But we are all but certain what that data will show is a new airport is not feasible and unlikely to come to fruition under the best of circumstances.

If a new regional airport was deemed needed, the Ocala airport makes more sense than building a new one. It has plenty of space, is near Interstate 75, is located in the middle of the Gainesville-Ocala-The Villages population corridor and already has runways capable of landing just about any plane. But then that would not solve Gainesville’s problem.

We appreciate the Gainesville business community inviting Ocala into the discussion about the future of their airport. But from where we sit, this is a Gainesville problem and there is not enough money or passengers or political will to lead to the construction of a new regional airport. It would simply be an unwise, indeed unneeded investment.

Original article can be found here ➤ https://www.ocala.com/opinion

1 comment:

daveyl123 said...

If you can't get scheduled carriers or spoke-hub commuters, then branch out and find a niche for your field: Training Base, Manufacturing, Aircraft Storage or Sales, Competitive Tie-down or hangar rates, Government/Military Tenants, Parachuting Schools, Meeting Centers, Museums. Mojave Airport, CA was a vast expanse of vast expanses. Long, Military-Styled Runways and Taxiways with good WBC, Hangars and Wide Open (Noise Complaints....) Spaces, yet they couldn't get a tenant to set up shop on the field. There was eventually a company that manufactured Guppy's, and lots of airliners started arriving for the mothball process. Today, the airport is thriving and bustling. We have the opposite here in our town. The local Executive Airport was buzzing, with most tie downs and hangars occupied. Then the military closed two bases in the vicinity, and they kept operating as civilian fields. Now that Exec field is a ghost town. High prices for everything (I think even the Machine Hot Chocolate is 2 bucks...) encroachment and poor zoning have combined to make elsewhere look attractive to many aircraft owners and aviation businesses.