New airport to open in Florida next month

 - March 30, 2010, 5:18 AM

Northwest Florida Beaches Airport (KECP; see photo on page 1) near Panama City, Fla., is set to open on May 23, marking the first new greenfield airport to be built in the post-9/11 era. Notably, the new 4,000-acre airport is part of the St. Joe Company’s “master planned” 75,000-acre greenfield parcel that guarantees no residential development will be built near the airfield itself or within the flight paths.

While it will open with just 10,000-foot Runway 16/34, the airport has an 8,400-foot parallel runway (16R/34L) and 5,000-foot crosswind Runway 3/21 in the near- term plans. The eventual 16L/34R can also be extended to up to 14,000 feet, including 1,500 feet of overruns.

St. Joe, which donated the land for the new airport, has set aside large swaths of acreage to the south and north of the airport, where flight paths will be most concentrated, as conservation areas; land immediately to the east and west is set aside for industrial development. Residential development is planned farther out to the east and west.

This permanent buffer zone around the airport means KECP can be operated 24/7 without generating noise complaints from residents. St. Joe believes the opportunity for round-the-clock operations, combined with adjacent industrial tracts with through-the-fence access, will entice an air shipper to build a package-sorting facility at the new airport. It also hopes to attract defense contractors at the industrial areas surrounding the airport, given its location between Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Bases to the east and west, the U.S. Naval Warfare Center to the south and Fort Rucker to the north.

The new airport in the West Bay development will replace the Panama City-Bay County Airport, which cannot be expanded to accommodate larger aircraft since it is hemmed in by North Bay to its northwest and land development around the rest of its perimeter. The old airport’s close proximity to Tyndall AFB also creates airspace challenges for arriving and departing traffic.

Nearly 140 general aviation aircraft–including about two dozen business jets, turboprops and helicopters–are currently based at Panama City-Bay County Airport, which averages some 250 movements per day. Most of these based aircraft are expected to migrate to the new airport, where 90 acres has been set aside for initial general aviation hangar and FBO development. A further 250 to 300 acres southeast of future Runway 3/21 has also been designated for GA infrastructure.
KECP airport director Randy Curtis told AIN that the 90-acre GA site that’s adjacent to the almost completed airline terminal can accommodate 105 T hangars and about 15 corporate jet hangars. The area can also accommodate as many as three FBOs, and Curtis said three companies are in negotiations to build facilities at the new airport.

Of the two existing FBO providers at the old Panama City airport–Precision AvJet and Sheltair– only the latter confirmed that it will make the move to the new field.
At press time, a representative at Precision AvJet told AIN that the company has made no decision about relocating the facility to KECP, nor would Curtis say if AvJet is one of the companies in negotiations to open a facility at the new airport.