Hey Grandma! Southwest Airlines Announced Direct Flights from St. Louis for 2013

Hey St. Louis residents, looking for a cheap way to get to the beach?  Southwest Airlines just announced direct flights from St. Louis to Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) starting March 9th and going through August 10th.  They experimented with daily flights last year from the great midwest to Panama City Beach, and obviously it was successful enough to warrant doing it again!

Last year they ran the non-stop flights from June to August.

So, Grandma, pack your bags, I’m flying you to the beach!

Full Press Release.

PANAMA CITY, FL (February 27, 2013) – After a successful trial in 2012, Southwest Airlines is bringing back a nonstop flight from Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL). The route begins March 9th and will run every day through August 10th, covering the busy spring break and summer travel seasons in Northwest Florida.

Southwest tested the seasonal flight from June through August of last year and achieved great results. During its two month run, Southwest carried about 16,000 passengers on the roundtrip route between Panama City Beach and St. Louis.

“We are very happy about the return of the nonstop flight to St. Louis,” said Airport Executive Director John Wheat. “St. Louis is a fantastic destination for our locals to visit and at two hours flight time, it makes visiting Panama City Beach much more convenient for those in the Midwest.”

The initial March 9th flight is scheduled to depart from Panama City Beach at 10:05 a.m. while the first flight in is scheduled for a 2:45 p.m. arrival. Subsequently, the route’s regular departure time is 12:05 p.m. with arrival at 2:05 p.m.

Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.southwest.com.

Southwest Airlines adds Non-Stop Flights from St. Louis

For a little seasonal boost, Southwest Airlines is opening up direct access to beaches of Northwest Florida to our mid-west residents of St. Louis this summer.  In a blog post released April 2nd (sorry this wasn’t quick enough for you Andy), SWA made this announcement along with a slew of other changes/additions to their 2012 schedules.

They kidded, “So…if we announced all of this yesterday, you’d think it was an April Fool’s joke.  BUT IT’S NOT!”

Details about the flights.

The non-stop flights between St. Louis (STL) and Panama City Beach’s Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) will begin on Monday June 3 and seem to run through the end of October.  The prices look to range from $130-$200 one-way.  In the last couple years, the Midwest has become a quickly growing segment that’s interested in vacationing in our area.  Out of the top 15 states we’ve serviced guests from in the last year, our vacation rental company has accommodated guests from 5 of the official 12 Midwestern states.

In addition to the strong rental stats, looking at our traffic on PCBDaily, Missouri ranks in the top 12 for states whose residents have read our blog in the last month.

Keep a sharp eye out for other sweet additions and changes to the Southwest Airlines offerings in our area.


New Charter Academy Coming to Panama City

The beach has been bustling, tourism has been up and the new airport has been performing better than expected the last couple years.  But, not much has been said about the old airport site and what activity was underway, lurking in the shadows.  We haven’t heard much in the last couple years, but it’s not because nothing has been happening – quite the contrary.  The savvy folks at St. Andrew Bay Land Company, regardless of their technical ownership status of the land, has been laying all the ground work to get the master planned community online in place of the old airport site.

The development of the old airport site.

Over the last couple years, the St. Andrew Bay Land Company (SABLC) has been quietly working to take possession of the land the old airport site was on.  If you remember, they were the ones that won the bid.  Their parent company, Leucadia, created the St. Andrew Bay Land Company in order to manage the development.  Working through a variety of complexities that come along with taking possession of an old airport site, they actually just closed in the last 60 days.

In a lunch meeting with Jacob Fish, with SABLC a few weeks back, he excitedly explained that they haven’t lost a beat and that the development was still on schedule for where it would be regardless if they had possession of the land.  He explained there are a variety of things they’ve been working on to get everything ready for development including some really neat advancements and improvements that have been helping from the state legislature, down.

Anyway, we owe you an update on what that development will entail, but that will happen on another day!

Details on the new Charter Academy that’s coming.

Concurrently with the new master planned community that is coming, the developer wanted to incorporate a high quality public school.

The University Academy will be a public K-5 charter school and will begin classes in August 2012 on the FSU Panama City campus.

“The University Academy will be focused on teaching that produces well rounded students who will be prepared to succeed in a rapidly evolving, connected world,” said academy founder and spokesperson, Kelly Forehand. “Naturally, the emphasis will be on the STEM curricula, but we believe it essential that students be equally strong in the areas of critical thinking, languages and the arts.”

A collaborative effort of Florida State University Panama City (FSU Panama City) and local community leaders to deliver innovative elementary education, The University Academy is founded on a strong comprehensive reading, expository writing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curricula.

“This is one of the first and only schools in Florida where a public university provides the research-based curricula and teacher development and where the employees of the Academy are privately employed by the school board, giving optimal flexibility to the Academy and the teachers,” said Dr. Elizabeth Crowe, PhD, one of academy’s founders and a research faculty member at Florida State University. “This model ensures that the focus is on the success of the individual student, and that the student comes first. This will be a school where students can achieve their potential, regardless of background.”

Parents and Students Information Meeting

An information meeting will be held on Thursday, April 12, 2012 at the FSU Panama City Campus, Bayside Auditorium, located at 4750 Collegiate Drive, from 5:00 PM to 7:30 PM. A model classroom will be set up for parents and students to experience.

More information can be found at http://www.university-academy.org, by writing us at info@university-academy.org, or by calling (850) 215-0137. For statements or interviews, the media should contact Academy founder Jacob Fish at (850) 624-3055 or Jacob.Fish@university-academy.org.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Launches New Website

Jason Koertge has an awesome vacation rental business in Panama City Beach that focuses on remarkable properties right on the gulf.  They range from 1 to 4 bedrooms, they’re clean, and amazing.  He can be found lurking at PCBLP.com.

I thought the old website looked pretty good, but apparently it lacked some desired functionality.  The new website just launched Tuesday of this week and features “an updated design, social media integration and streamlined information for travelers, including a new real-time flight tracking feature.”

As you know, the new airport is located just north on Highway 79 and to the east about 5 miles on Highway 388.  It was relocated there a couple years back in what was a bold and revolutionary move as it was the first new airport to be built since 9/11/01.

We’re planning on visiting the new airport again (we’ve obviously been a ton of times) to shoot a video tour for our readers.

What are some of the things you’d like to see us show?

Press release for the website launch

PANAMA CITY, FL (February 14, 2012) – Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport has unveiled a new website that will make traveling even more convenient for flyers. The new website features an updated design, social media integration and streamlined information for travelers, including a new real-time flight tracking feature.

The Airport understands that a seamless online experience is more important than ever in an increasingly interactive world where most consumers are making their travel plans online.

“We wanted to provide our customers with a website that quickly answers their questions and allows them to effortlessly make travel decisions” said John Wheat, the Airport’s Executive Director.

Website visitors can obtain real time updates on arrivals and departures, follow flights on an interactive route map and track individual flights throughout the country.

Residents looking for a getaway will be able to choose from the Airport’s daily direct flights with service to Atlanta, GA (ATL), Baltimore, MD (BWI), Houston, TX (HOU), Nashville, TN (BNA), and Orlando, FL (MCO), as well as connecting service to worldwide destinations.

Website visitors looking to learn more about what Northwest Florida has to offer will be seamlessly connected to the Airport’s exceptional tourism partners who stand ready to help them plan the perfect getaway to Panama City, Panama City Beach, Florida’s Forgotten Coast or the 15 Beach Neighborhoods of South Walton.

“Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport offers the lowest average airfares in the region, allowing travelers to save an average of $150 on each trip they take,” said Andy McKenzie, Chairman of the Airport’s Board of Directors. “The new website is an important tool in helping us spread the word that our Airport is the most convenient and cost effective option.”

The Airport will also soon be launching a mobile site that is fully compatible with handheld devices. This site will provide a more user friendly experience when viewing from a mobile device, whether at the Airport or on the go.

For more information, visit www.IFlyBeaches.com.

First Large Military Contractor to move to ECP’s VentureCrossings

VentureCrossings, St. Joe’s Enterprise Center at the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport will be home to ITT Corporation, one Bay County’s leading military technology contractors.  The new VentureCrossings Center was granted ‘through the fence’ access to use the new airport last November.  This commercial facility was planned and designed to be the home for commercial businesses just like this.

Press Release

(September 6, 2011 – Bay County, FL)  The Bay County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) is pleased to announce that ITT Corporation’s Panama City facility plans to expand its operations to a new, 100,000-square-foot building at VentureCrossings Enterprise Center at West Bay, near the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, in mid-2012. The company will be the first commercial development in the business park built by The St. Joe Company in its 70,000-acre West Bay sector. ITT is projected to hire an additional 30 employees, increasing its total employment to 120, at an average annual wage of $49,500, exceeding 150 percent of Bay County’s average annual wage.

The Panama City facility develops and deploys secure, networked communications and essential electronic warfare, sensing, surveillance, reconnaissance and structures technologies to detect and clear mines from maritime waters. Its Mine Defense Systems operation’s primary Department of Defense local customer is the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.

“Mine defense is essential to keeping global trade safe and dependable,” said Vice President and General Manager Rich Sorelle of ITT’s Electronic Systems’ integrated electronic warfare systems business. “A growing number of customers, both in the U.S. and around the world, have chosen ITT technology to protect the shipping lanes from threats to world trade.”

Facilitated by the EDA, a competitive package of state and local incentives was leveraged to assist ITT in its expansion in Bay County. The company was approved for Florida’s Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund and a Bay County Property Tax Abatement.

“The EDA not only focuses on attracting companies to Bay County, we also assist our diversified industries in their expansion needs,” said Glen McDonald, chairman of the EDA. “It is because of the partnership with the State of Florida and the Bay County Board of County Commissioners that this project has been successful.”

“ITT’s decision to expand its Bay County operations has a notable economic impact on our community,” said Janet Watermeier, executive director of the EDA. “For every 10 jobs ITT creates, an additional 10 jobs will be created in other areas of the local community. For every $100 that ITT spends, an additional $27 in sales will be generated by other Bay County companies. For every $100 that ITT spends in wages, an additional $46 will be earned by other Bay County workers.”

About ITT Corporation

ITT Corporation is a high-technology engineering and manufacturing company operating on all seven continents in three vital markets: water and fluids management, global defense and security, and motion and flow control. With a heritage of innovation, ITT partners with its customers to deliver extraordinary solutions that create more livable environments, provide protection and safety and connect our world. Headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., the company reported 2010 revenue of $11 billion. www.itt.com.


Sheltair Opens FBO at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport

This summer, Sheltair opened it’s FBO (short for fixed base operations) at the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  They are the only FBO at the new airport, and they also operated an FBO at the old Panama City Airport (PFN).

“We are so thrilled to have opened our beautiful, new facility in order to better serve our based, as well as transient customers in the Florida panhandle,” said Danny Walsh, Vice President of Aviation at Sheltair, “This location is truly one of the flagship FBO’s in our network and will now be a gateway for many to some of the most gorgeous beaches and scenery that this state has to offer.”

What is an FBO

An FBO is a Fixed Base Operator that provides aeronautical services at commercial airports.  The Federal Aviation Administration defines an FBO as A commercial business granted the right by the airport sponsor to operate on an airport and provide aeronautical services such as fueling, hangaring, tie-down and parking, aircraft rental, aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, etc..

In other words, if you’re a private pilot or a member of the general aviation community, you would use this new facility to come and go from the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.

About the new facility

Sheltair had been operating at the new Panama City Beach airport out of a temporary space on the airfield, but they just moved into their new 5,000 square foot facility end of July.  The building was build to LEED Certification standards and is currently in the approval process with the U.S. Green Building Council.

Some of the amenities at the new facility include:

  • Spacious passenger lobby
  • Conference room
  • Pilots lounge
  • Flight planning and weather room
  • Complimentary interior cleaning
  • Catering
  • Crew cars
  • Cafeteria/vending area
  • Complimentary refreshments/snacks
  • Wireless Internet

In addition to the main building, Sheltair also offers 1,680 square feet of office rental space and a 9,100 square foot hangar that’s available for lease.

For more information about Sheltair, visit SheltairAviation.com

More pictures

New Airport’s Average Flight is 39% Less

One of the big things supporters wanted out of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport was lower fares.  And lower fares we received.  The average per ticket fare at the old airport (PFN) was a whopping $583.  The average per ticket fare at the new airport (ECP) is $354.  Of course, that’s not to say, if you keep an eye on the deals you can’t find one of Southwest’s famous $50 trips.

ECP Airfare Costs Comparison

Before the new airport, Panama City’s airfare costs were second to the highest in the state of Florida.  Now we fall right in the middle.

Average Airfare 2009

Airport Code Airport Average Fare
MCO Orlando International 232.82
FLL Fort Lauderdale International 235.19
TPA Tampa International 261.58
JAX Jacksonville International 282.04
PNS Pensacola Regional 379.20
TLH Tallahassee Regional 411.55
VPS Northwest Florida Regional 505.66
PFN Panama City-Bay County International 583.44
DHN Dothan Regional 769.35

Average Airfare 2010

Airport Code Airport Average Fare
MCO Orlando International 245.48
FLL Fort Lauderdale International 247.05
TPA Tampa International 284.50
JAX Jacksonville International 306.94
ECP Northwest Florida Beaches International 354.89
PNS Pensacola Regional 375.26
TLH Tallahassee Regional 457.31
VPS Northwest Florida Regional 496.58
PFN Panama City-Bay County International 579.71
DHN Dothan Regional 753.86
Current Traffic and Future Forecasts

In addition to lower fares, traffic is way up as well.  On average, the new airport is passing almost triple the number of people the old airport did consistently each month.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the existing numbers and future projections of passenger traffic growth.

Year Passengers Percent Change
2009 312,540
2010 649,018 107.7%
2011 858,931 32.3%
2012 916,800 6.7%
2013 948,888 3.5%

2009 market share for our airport was a measly 9.1%.  Current market share for the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport has more than doubled to 22.1%.

Airport Passengers Market Share
Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional 627,053 38.8%
Northwest Florida Regional 382,715 23.7%
Northwest Florida Beaches International 345,231 21.3%
Tallahassee Regional 261,878 16.2%
Total 1,616,877 100.0%


Total number of flights

8 SWA departures and arrivals – 16 total flights – 7,657 seats per week

10 Delta departures and arrivals – 20 total flights – 5,135 seats per week

Thoughts, comments?

What are your thoughts on the new airport.  Have you flown out of it?  What are your impressions on it?  Was your fare lower?


Airport Passes 1 Millionth Passenger, Names new Chairman

The old mantra, “If you build it, they will come,” certainly seems true with the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  Despite opposition, the new location seems to be meeting expectations.  With a new parking facility under construction and monthly passenger traffic up almost three times what is was in the old airport, it’s safe to say the new facility is getting it’s use.

The Airport Authority recently named Andy McKenzie the new chairman of the board, in replacement of Gerry Clemons.  Clemons retired his position due to term limits.

A lifelong resident of Panama City, Mr. McKenzie has been a member of the Airport Authority since 2005. Mr. McKenzie is CEO and founder of McKenzie Insurance Associates, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, and previously served as chief investigator for the Bay County Sheriff’s Department.

“I am honored to serve as chairman of the Airport Authority and look forward to continuing the success that the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport has experienced in its first year of operation,” said McKenzie.

One of these successes was the Airport’s milestone of serving one million passengers, which it reached in July.

“Serving one million passengers is a tremendous achievement,” said McKenzie. “I know the Airport’s outstanding leadership and staff will drive this momentum even further as they continue to provide the highest quality service to passengers.”

The Airport Authority also voted John E. Pilcher, III as its vice-chair. Inducted to the Airport Authority in 2010, Mr. Pilcher owns Pilcher Storage and has served on the Panama City Commission.

Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport – Happy Birthday!

One year and 800,000 passengers later, the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport is regarded a huge success.  Today was the one year anniversary to the opening of the new airport in Panama City Beach.  The celebration included a gathering, speeches and the unveiling of a huge “rock” that commemorated the sponsors involved in the Grand Opening one year ago today.

Serving 800,000 passengers in the past year, the new location has catapulted the airport traffic above Tallahassee and just below Pensacola’s airport which sees an estimated 1 million annual passengers.  The current traffic is three times greater than the traffic the old airport saw annually.

In addition to making our area more accessible to vacation travelers across the country, the new airport has also decreased the average per flight rate by 31%.  This is an average across the board, factoring in rates from Delta as well.

The new lower rates has rippled through local industry, offering savings that’s enabled companies to hire more people, bring on new projects and overall expand.  Applied Research, who employs around 200 people, 100 of which have PhD’s and Master degrees in various arenas, spends roughly $700k in airline tickets every year.  The 30% savings has resulted in around $216k that they’ve been able to keep in their pocket to use in their business, reported Glen McDonald, their Senior VP.

The new airport’s Southwest carrier services 4 locations with 8 flights a day, which equates to 2,000 seats every day.

Commissioner Mike Thomas said people would complain about just about anything.  He recounted this morning that he got a call at 7:30 am about a rooster crowing in their neighborhood off Thomas Drive.  He said he welcomed that call, mentioning that if that’s all someone has to complain about, it must be a beautiful day.  He said he fielded tons of other complaints over the years about the new airport but agreed it was a success and was proud to have supported it in its development.

All in all, it was a fun event.  The growth of our area is apparent with the new airport, and no doubt, it’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities for local travel out and visiters traveling in.