“Governor Jeb Bush just left here for Tallahassee. I spoke with him and he said the whole state from the Alabama/Florida line through Destin is just a mess,” Ron Hensel, manager of Sowell Aviation at Panama City Airport (PFN), told AIN on September 17. The governor and his brother, President George W. Bush, toured the point of landfall and extended path of Hurricane Ivan between Mobile, Ala., and Panama City, Fla., by helicopter that day.
Panama City escaped the brunt of Ivan’s 140-mph winds but received a number of severe thunderstorms. “Our main problem along the coast outside the eye-wall path was the embedded tornados and the surge damage that followed,” said Hensel. “We were very lucky. We had minimal wind damage or flooding…We had some roof damage to our administration building and a general aviation hangar but we’re up and running again. We’ve got plenty of fuel for the diverting Gulf Coast traffic and for the most part we’re out of harm’s way.”
Unfortunately for coastal cities like Pensacola, Fla., and the popular resort destination of Gulf Shores, Ala., which is served by the Jack Edwards Airport on the coastline, the repercussions were far different. The eye of Hurricane Ivan passed directly over this area. Pensacola Regional (PNS) sustained extensive damage to the access roads, general aviation hangars and the airport terminal building. Tons of debris littered the runways at PNS. The airport lost all power, which remained a problem for recovery workers. PNS officials were unavailable for additional comment on the damage.
As of September 20, the smaller Gulf Shores Jack Edwards Airport had returned to full operation. However, a recorded message at the airport discouraged unnecessary flight activity by advising patrons and returning tenants that many areas within the city were inaccessible due to flooding and severe property damage.
Mark Pellham, director of marketing for the Mobile [Alabama] Airport Authority (MAA), commented that his airport, Mobile Regional Airport, faced the same challenges as a majority of airports within a 100-mile radius of Ivan’s landfall: debris and loss of power. “We had our generators running immediately. We are independent of the city power source.”
The MAA also operates Brookley Field, home to numerous large maintenance facilities, including a manufacturing plant and assembly line for Teledyne-Continental’s aircraft engine production. “As far as Brookley, we were very lucky.” Said Pellham, “The damage was mostly cosmetic and we were up and running 12 hours after the storm passed.”