South Florida’s Gulf Coast has long been known as a destination for snowbirds, those Northerners who flee winter’s wrath for the balmy climate of places like Fort Myers. At the city’s Page Field, the airport-owned FBO, known officially as Base Operations at Page Field, is the lone services provider. Built and operated by the Lee County Port Authority, the FBO sees seasonal swings in traffic, with the tempo picking up before Thanksgiving and lasting through Easter. Occupying that window is spring training for Major League Baseball’s “grapefruit league,” with both the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins making the city their temporary home.
“We find that a lot of folks will fly their aircraft and keep it down here,” said Barry Bratton, the Port Authority’s director of general aviation. “They may pay for a spot year round; they may not keep the airplane here year round, but it’s a very active general aviation population in season here.”
Page Field handled commercial service as well as GA traffic until 1983 when Southwest Florida International Airport opened, leaving Page as a regional general aviation reliever airport under current FAA designations. “Right now we’re running just over 85,000 annual operations, which is similar to our primary international airport,” Bratton told AIN. “So we are in every sense a reliever airport.”
Room To Grow
Having operated its FBO out of a modular structure on the south side of the field for more than a quarter century, the authority built a new $16 million GA facility, which made its debut in 2011. “Planning for the future, we overbuilt this a bit because we don’t get to build new terminals very often,” explained Bratton. “We were looking ten years down the road capacity-wise; that’s why we ended up with such a large facility.”
The 22,000-sq-ft terminal has two floors, with the upper largely occupied by Port Authority offices. The spacious, well lit lobby harkens back to Page Field’s history as a World War II advanced fighter training base, with retro posters and memorabilia sheltering under the full-scale P-51 Mustang replica that hangs from the ceiling. Out front, a vintage restored North American AT-6 trainer resides under a canopy. Among the amenities offered are a 12-seat conference room and a 50-person seminar room–both of which are a/v equipped–a flight planning and weather room with direct communication to clearance, a crew lounge, snooze room, crew showers, game room with billiards and video games, gift/pilot shop, onsite car rental and crew cars. The entire facility is equipped with high-speed complimentary Wi-Fi linked to wireless printers.
In addition to 189 T-hangars, the FBO has 50,000 sq ft of community aircraft storage, spread among three hangars, including one built in 2011. It is home to approximately 30 turbine airplanes, ranging from a GIV to a TBM 850, along with three helicopters. “When we built our 24,000-square-foot hangar, we assumed that would meet our capacity needs for probably five or six years,” noted Bratton. “It was at capacity within six months of moving into the new facility.” Another 24,000-sq-ft hangar is planned, and the site is already prepped. Despite having nearly 14 acres of ramp, the authority is looking to increase its paved area as well, according to Bratton. “Believe it or not, the ramp is just barely big enough to accommodate our peak-season traffic, so we do have expansion plans on the table,” he said.
When the current Avfuel-branded facility was built, the authority added a new tank farm as well, including a pair of 20,000-gallon jet-A tanks and a 20,000-gallon 100LL tank, served by a quartet of fuel trucks. A separate tank holds 1,500 gallons of high-octane automotive fuel for users of Rotax-powered aircraft. Annually it pumps approximately 1 million gallons of jet-A and 300,000 gallons of avgas.
The FBO is also one of the latest to be approved under the TSA’s DCA Access Standard Security Program (DASSP) as a gateway for direct access for private flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.
Community relations are important to the authority and Base Operations, which serves up a free hot-dog lunch to customers and neighbors alike during its weekly Fly-In Fridays. “Our community is supportive of the airport, and what we do here is we try to turn that around with simple things like inviting them in on Fridays to come and meet the pilots, so they can chat a little bit,” said Bratton. “It puts a face on the operations they see.” The airport is also a stop on the vintage warbird circuit, with groups such as the Commemorative Air Force, the Collings Foundation and the Experimental Aircraft Association making visits. Each fall, it also hosts an open-house community day, which attracts several thousand visitors.