Florida FBOs clean up after Charley

 - October 12, 2006, 5:47 AM

When Hurricane Charley slammed into the heavily populated west coast of Florida last month, it came with unpredicted fury. Forecasters had issued warnings for a Category 2 storm (sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph), but the system strengthened rapidly as it crossed the Gulf of Mexico. When it reached landfall at about 3:45 p.m. in the Charlotte Harbor between Punta Gorda and Fort Myers, Charley had been upgraded to a Category 4 storm, and wind speeds of 145 mph were reported at its center.

The hurricane then bore north-northeast, creating damage across 200 miles in the center of the state before returning to the Atlantic at Daytona Beach. Statewide damage was estimated at $14 billion.

In the Wake of the Hurricane

FBOs, corporate flight departments and aircraft owners who were in the path of the storm made hurried preparations to protect aircraft, but their facilities were at the mercy of the elements.

“The storm hit here first,” said Vincent Wolanin of Private Sky, a Gulfstream Service Center located at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, “then traveled north to Port Charlotte.” While the wind was already at full tilt when the hurricane hit Fort Myers, damage at the Private Sky facility was confined to water in the hangars. There were four Gulfstreams in the Private Sky facility that escaped damage.

After leaving the west coast of the state, the brunt of the storm moved northeast, damaging aircraft and facilities at the Acadia Municipal Airport, before moving to the Kissimmee-Orlando area. Aircraft owners and FBOs could do little to protect their aircraft.

“When we got word about Charley, I moved our (charter) Navajo down to Kissimmee,” said Rick Groth, Air Orlando president. “Now it’s buried in the debris of a collapsed hangar.”

Losses at Showalter Flying Service at Orlando Executive Airport totaled about $6 million, according to Kim Showalter, president.

“Of aircraft stored in hangars and tied down on the ramp, 15 were total losses and 20 others were damaged. No turbine equipment was lost; we flew out two Falcon 50s and a King Air 350 before the storm hit.” However, she added, a DC-3 that had been under renovation for several years at the facility broke loose and tumbled through five or six T-hangars housing aircraft.

Similar scenarios played out before Charley moved into the Atlantic Ocean. At Daytona Beach Jet Center, two Citations that had been hangared for protection were damaged extensively when a hangar wall collapsed during the storm, while aircraft tied down on the ramp outside escaped major damage.

The day Showalter talked with AIN, she was concentrating on the human side of the disaster. “Right now, we’re shuttling owners out to show them their aircraft. It’s a grieving process. Our employees are acting as grief counselors.”