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.

The Southwest Effect Coming To A Summer Near You (Finally)

Over the last year or so, you’ve heard the coined phrased a million times, “The Southwest Effect,” or, more specifically, the increase in airline travel to and from a community after service is inaugurated by Southwest Airlines. That phrase, and it’s somewhat pretentious definition, was the cornerstone in the big push to get the new airport placed, built and quickly up and running. You’ve waited with your doors open expecting the flood of Chicagoans, Tennesseans and the like to see our local marketing efforts and low fares into the “World’s Most Beautiful Beach” and show up with money in hand. Well, that hasn’t exactly happened yet, (insert BP insult here), but that’s not to say that this summer won’t see a spike in airline travel and, consequently, more traffic to your business. Recent trends, suggest, the “Effect” might be happening very soon.

Airline Travel:

Earlier this year, now former airport Executive Director, Randy Curtis, stated that statistics taken from the July-August season in 2010 compared to the old-airport’s numbers during the same time frame experienced a significant increase. In July-August 2009, the old airport handled about 30,000 monthly passengers. In 2010, however, during those same summer months, the numbers jumped to 83,000 passengers (per month) despite negative, national media coverage of BP’s oil disaster and the nation’s economical hardships.

Randy Curtis simplified the numbers-by stating that this year’s expectations are leaning towards “3x’s the number of passengers the old airport handled during the same time frame”.

So what does that mean? Well, quite simply, the “Effect” is in effect. What everyone expected from the new airport and the arrival of Southwest Airlines was that more flights would produce more visitors and a broader clientele. The first half of that is already true. We’ve essentially tripled the amount of passengers coming into Panama City Beach. So, does that necessarily mean more money?

Hotel Booking Numbers:

In a recent article, we explained how Hoteliers were cautiously optimistic about this year’
s tourist season. It seems that optimism is beginning to produce actual numbers and the numbers are good. We spoke with two local hotels and a condo owner renting properties on his own. In all three cases, numbers were up so far. One hotel GM even went as far as to say that Thunder Beach was “the best one we’ve ever had financially”. But it isn’t actual heads-in-beds that had everyone raving.

Nick Armstrong, GM of the Chateau Motel, said, “Our early bookings are up, compared to last year where people were more likely to wait until the last minute.”

Early booking numbers suggest that a). people are no longer worried about Oil, b). potential vacationers are more willing to set aside money they would/could not last year and c). individuals booking flights are also booking rooms.

If this trend continues, by the end of winter, hotel and condo numbers should be definitive as to whether the “Effect” has had any effect on them.

Increased Staffing:

If you drove around the beach just before Spring Break, you saw “Now Hiring” signs all over the place. This is not uncommon for our area as our seasons dictate the hiring increases. What is uncommon is that the “Now Hiring” signs are still up. In a recent visit to Pier Park, lots of establishments are hiring more people to help deal with the more individuals coming through their doors. Restaurants have bulked up staff members for both the increase in visitors and because of the numbers they project to do this summer. What was once “cautious optimism” is becoming serious preparation. This, of course, suggests that not only do the numbers show an increase in visitors now, but that our little town could be in for a BIG summer.



Southwest Airlines buys AirTran Airways [DEAL CLOSED]

In a move that will inch them closer to being the largest airline in the US, Southwest Airlines closed the purchase of AirTran Airways Monday.  The airline already flies more passengers per year, over 100 million, but most of them are vacation travelers, rather than business travelers.  This purchase move is said to increase their leverage to capture the higher-fare-paying business traveler.

Acquisition benefits to Southwest Airlines
  • Gains access to Washington’s Reagan National Airport
  • Acquired gates in New York’s LaGuardia Airport
  • Acquires AirTran’s hub in Atlanta
  • Will increase passenger traffic by 25%

As of right now, it’s unclear how Southwest’s $1 billion purchase of AirTran will effect the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  It’s assumed that Southwest will integrate AirTran’s routes with their own, but it’s too early to tell how this will  pan out.  Obviously a huge element of this buy is the acquisition of the Atlanta hub as this is highly sought after in the business travel arena.  Of course, the Atlanta part of this deal is particularly interesting to us as that area has always been a great feeder to our market.  If access to Atlanta was easier, we may be able to expect a boost in tourism travel from there.


New Airport Names New Executive Director

There has been some changes in management at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.  Former Executive Director Randy Curtis has been moved to a different role, Director of Special Projects and John Wheat was named the Executive Director.  This move came quickly with little fanfare and only but a little commotion from one of the board members who held the only dissenting vote – Andy McKenzie.  McKenzie’s quarrel with the swift action was that it was just that, too fast.

In the past, airport positions have been well publicized, accepted many resumes and have opened up discussion for the board in advance.  The hiring of Wheat was fast, not well discussed in public and actually slipped through in the board meeting without his name being mentioned.

The quick movements were justified by other board members by the time-sensitive negotiations the board was in with Southwest and Delta Airlines over future landing fees.  As of date, the airlines have not been happy with the pace of negotiations and the new appointments were expected to accelerate a final agreement.  Landing fees are a significant revenue generator for the airport.  Concurrent with the appointment of Wheat as the new executive director, both airlines and St. Joe gave their nod of approval of Wheat as well.

Another appointment was made as well: Parker McClellan as the Deputy Executive Director.

I bet you’re wondering how much all these guys make.  I know I sure was.  In an article recently released in the News Herald, the annual salaries were noted:  John Wheat, Executive Director, $135,000; Parker McClellan, Deputy Executive Director, $100,000; Randy Curtis, Director of Special Projects, $116,000.

Here is the full press release:

Panama City, Fla. (April 27, 2011) – The Airport Authority has named John Wheat as the executive director of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. As executive director, Wheat is responsible for leading the operational and strategic efforts of the Airport and reports to the Airport Authority Board of Directors. Wheat brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the aviation industry and most recently served as COO of the Tampa International Airport, where he was responsible for the organization’s finances and operations, as well as brings valued relationships with key partners.

The Airport Authority has also introduced a new organizational model for the Airport with a leadership team that is well-positioned to take the organization forward. This includes Parker McClellan as Deputy Executive Director and Randy Curtis as Director of Special Projects. McClellan, who most recently served as the acting director for the Airport, is now the Deputy Executive Director to ensure a comprehensive leadership team with all airport activity working through this position and up to the Executive Director. Curtis will play an important role in the closing of the “old airport”, as well as ensuring the airport maintains positive relationships with various state and federal agencies. His historical and institutional knowledge will be valuable to the upcoming work on behalf of this organization.

With the addition of John Wheat, the Northwest Florida Beaches International leadership team brings the vision, experience and relationships to best leverage one of the community’s greatest assets. This strategic leadership team is focused on driving the region’s economic vitality as they lead the first international airport to open in more than 10 years. The gateway to beautiful world-famous beaches, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport boasts a plethora of convenient flights daily serviced by Southwest Airlines and Delta Airlines.

New Airport Pictures – NEVER BEFORE SEEN

You know how when you see project or construction renderings, the imagery always seems so polished, glossy and beautiful looking?  You always hope the final product will look just half as good as the original artist’s touch, but the real thing just never seems to be quite as beautiful.  Well, in the case of the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport – the exact opposite is true.  The final product, to me, looks even more beautiful than the original artist’s concepts.

Continue reading “New Airport Pictures – NEVER BEFORE SEEN”