The Federal Aviation Administration has assigned a new three-letter identifier to the new Northwest Florida Beaches International airport now under construction in West Bay, Florida.
The runway extension is heavy production, the terminal is almost complete and we’re just a few short months away from seeing those beautiful canyon blue jets flying over our beaches. Here are the latest aerials of the brand new, but not yet completed Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.
Every year we like to put a little post together showing you the TOP TEN articles on PCBDaily for the previous year. The top content is easily found by doing some digging in our analytics. This year’s top stories included a mix from airport news to auction results to information pieces about Pier Park. So, without further ado!
Often I receive all sorts of cynical comments about the construction of the new airport in Panama City Beach. This is, in fact, one of my favorite topics to debate, I love hearing what everyone has to say and I love forming rebuttals. So this is the first of a series of posts that I want to walk down the line of some of the comments I get and open it all up for conversation in the comments below.
I’ll list out the cynical comments, then I’ll explain why they are so off base, you’ll see why the new airport has NOTHING to do with bringing “Aunt Pearl” home.
Tuesday the Airport Authority met and again discussed the new name for the new airport that is currently under construction in North Bay County. The Board met a few weeks back and decided upon the name Northwest Florida Panama City International Airport, much to the dismay of local tourism industry leaders and government officials. The justification of the previously picked new name by the board consisted of wanting to give Panama City credit for nurturing the new airport project along and ensure travelers to our area knew and understood that they were coming to Panama City.
But, I think that being sure that people know they are coming to Panama City is contradictory to the mission as a whole here.
It was made quite clear by Bob Montgomery, Vice President of Properties for Southwest Airlines, that if it weren’t for St. Joe, Southwest Airlines wouldn’t be coming to Panama City. The discussions between St. Joe and Southwest Airlines began over a decade ago. One of the things that was explained to me a short while ago was that Southwest Airlines can go where ever they want to go; they just pick an airport, and the airport accommodates. I was told that Southwest coming to Panama City made absolutely no sense from a business perspective and the prospect encompassed more risk than a company like Southwest would be willing to take. But, what if the risk was mitigated by a third party? That was their ticket into our market.
Read on for all the facts.
I want to start this out with stating that this is complete rumor-mill at this point; but we’ll have dialogue below that assumes this is true. With that said, I received an email citing an unnamed source had informed him that in order to maintain and build market share, Delta/Northwest will begin lowering fares in November to build a better market base before Southwest begins service in May. Also, there is a good possibility that when the new airport opens, Delta/Northwest may bring in larger aircraft to serve our marketplace.
Hit the read more link to get the scoop.
Submit your names to be included in tomorrow’s regularly schedule Airport Authority Board Meeting. The Airport Authority is considering new names and is asking for public input.
Up for debate for quite some time has been a new name for the new Panama City – Bay County International Airport, which is being relocated to an under construction site north of West Bay in Panama City Beach. The new airport has been under construction for over a year now and is set to open May 18, 2010.
We’ve had discussions here and many in the community have recognized that essential to the success of the new airport is a new name that has a regional (or greater) connotation. The potential of this airport can certainly capture a regional traveler. Shoot, if we’d drive over to Ft. Walton’s Northwest Florida Regional Airport to save a few hundred buckaroos, certainly our friends to the west (and east for that matter) would do the same.
In order for this airport to best serve our needs into the future, visitors that fly into Panama City need to fly into an airport that encompasses all of Northwest Florida. Talking to Mel Ponder from Coastal Vision 3000 – or THE Beach – not long ago, he was telling me that international travelers that fly into Orlando rarely stay in Orlando the whole time they are here. Furthermore, they rarely travel here for less than 14 days. International travelers will venture as far as up to 5 hours away from Orlando in their travels.
Our new airport will need to be a regional destination that will bring visitors within hours of some of the worlds most beautiful vacation spots from Apalachicola to Pensacola and beyond.
Submit your name suggestions below and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are some of the names that have been submitted on here in the past:
Northwest Florida International
Emerald Coast International
Gulf Coast International
With the new airport wet on their lips, all the local and not so local media has been eating up the “airport wars” stories that have been ensuing over the battle for Southwest Airlines. Today, it would seem, that everyone is vying for them; everyone in Northwest Florida, that is. In fact, in the last 60 days alone, all of a sudden VPS (or Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Ft. Walton) and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional Airport have made very public efforts to woo Southwest in their direction.
Today, at a YP@TheBeach (Young Professionals AT The Beach) luncheon we had the great pleasure of listening to Representative Jimmy Patronis describe how he grew as a Young Professional into his career in politics. Jimmy, as always, it was great to see you. I asked about the progress with Southwest Airlines and whether we were any closer to seeing a commitment from them to come to our new airport. The short answer is below, but let me spell out the long answer as he did to us, as it is definitely worth telling.
This area needs it.
Southwest Airlines’ flight destination plan is laid out in a mesh-style pattern. Picture circles all over the US in which their radius is about a 5 hour drive. Right now, you’ll see an airport that services Southwest right in the middle of each make-believe circle. Of course, this is only applicable in areas with a particular and significant population size. Right now, there is a Southwest airport in New Orleans, Jackson MS, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa, but a void in our little stretch of the country. In order for them to keep with their mesh-style plan, they need one in our part of the country.
Pensacola won’t work.
Right now, servicing Pensacola is Air Tran, a great low-cost carrier. Often times they offer great competitive rates to most large cities and many smaller cities a lot of the time, non-stop. Pensacola is also about 200 miles from New Orleans, or within about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive – really too close to be considered not a competitional threat to existing operations in southern Louisiana. In addition, as it was explained to me, Southwest counts the number of street lights you have to go through to get into the airport and weighs that in regarding ease of access. As I understand it, Pensacola is not easy for travelers to come into.
Just students and government folk in Tallahassee.
If you think about who is coming and going in Tallahassee, there’s not much need for a low cost carrier to service that destination. They have adequate flights coming and going and the traffic to that destination isn’t likely to change because of a new airport. The future travel growth there has no real upward potential.
Dothan’s great, but they have no need either.
Same story, different location. There’s a lot of great people, great industry, and great money, but who’s traveling there, how much are the people there traveling out, and what is the future potential for travel growth for Dothan, Alabama.
Despite what they say, Ft. Walton just can’t handle Southwest Airlines.
This is the big one folks, and it isn’t likely to make our neighbors to the west of here very happy, but these are the facts. The Ft. Walton Airport, aka Northwest Florida Regional Airport, aka VPS is sharing their on-ground and in-air operations with the Department of Defense. This shared arrangement limits their flight operations to 100 total flights per day; that’s 50 flights in and 50 flights out. Currently they are using 60% of their daily operational capacity. Why in the world would a company as successful as Southwest Airlines come into an environment where right off the bat they would be limited as to what their future potential growth at that airport could be.
You see, it is all about the future. This is where so many opponents to the airport have missed the mark in their arguments. They focus on operations right now at the current airport and say we’re under capacity. Well, yeah, of course we are. Have you checked to see how much it costs to fly in and out of here lately? If we had a carrier that could bring low cost airfare to our neck of the woods, don’t you think we would get that business that drives to Dothan, Tallahassee and Northwest Florida Regional? What’s that you say? No numbers of real importance actually travel 1 to 2 hours away to save on airfare. Wanna bet?
At the new airport, Southwest has unlimited potential for future growth. Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that they could have significant influence on how infrastructure is laid out at the new facility to best suit their needs. Furthermore still, they have $2.2 million each year to back any advertising to help drive people to use their service to fly to Panama City. In addition to all that, there is very likely to be a huge demand in travel to our destination over the next couple of years as many of the areas that could not travel here before can now get here with ease. And, to cap it all off, we are right smack dab in the middle of one of the concentric circles that virtually map out where each airport servicing Southwest Airlines will be.
Southwest Airlines was referred to as the “golden goose” of airlines in this morning’s paper because despite the tumultuous times in the airline industry, they, for the most part, have remained in the black. Their business model and growth plan fits perfectly with the ideals of Panama City and we would make a perfect fit for their next step. Hundreds of thousands of people have yet to discover the marvel that is Panama City Beach and that business is not only ripe for the picking by our area, but also Southwest Airlines.
I’d be willing to bet that fewer people have seen a new airport in its initial construction phases than those who have hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. And being that I’ve already made the hike (Really, I did), I’m certified to say that after touring the new airport site, this $318 million dollar triumph of construction can, in many ways, hold its own against a wonder of the world. I spent the morning touring the site and came to one very clear, incontrovertible conclusion: the new airport will be the catalyst to a Panama City Beach evolution.
I entered the airport through an access gate and drove down a wide 4-lane street which will one day be Panama City Beach’s first impression tourists. It was hardly more than a timberline, but I could see what it will become. I could see the tropical landscaping, palm trees and colorful hibiscus lining the corridor, small hotels, perhaps even resurrection of some PCB classics long closed, there for guests in transition. I could see that street packed with rental cars, big vans, taxis and shuttles transporting happy vacationers.
We reached the first construction trailers that overlooked the mammoth partially completed site. The air smelled of disturbed dirt and diesel fuel and huge tractors flattened the land in every direction. Our plan was simple, take a tour of the runway and head over to the terminal. We met up with Amy Ausley, airport Public Relations, and Bill Holman, Airport Relocation Manager, for our tour.
First we drove around the site. Already a number of construction projects whttps://pcbdaily.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=5164&_wp_original_http_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fpcbdaily.com%2Fwp-admin%2Fedit.php&message=1ere in the final phases of their completion. The retention ponds, plumbing and irrigation and much of the electrical neared completion. But what came as a surprise to me was the runway. This huge, 8,400 ft. runway, fully paved and seemingly ready to land a plane of any size, was already in its initial lighting stages. It even had an additional 2,000 ft safety area fitting comfortably into FAA standards, differing entirely from the current airport which isn’t even close to FAA standards at a measly 69 ft of safety area. Looking down the strip of unobstructed pavement I amused two thoughts: 1. having a Lamborghini or a Porsche would be a lot of fun right now and 2. It won’t be long before this is the busiest runway in all of Northwest Florida.
Surrounding the runway was more grass than you could imagine. It was a bit of a shock, but I was told by airport staff that environmental issues were taken seriously. In fact, the DEP fine of $257,000 for environmental damages was taken so seriously by airport staff that there have been talks of in-kind donations of land for mitigation or time on future environmental projects.
We came around the runway and, after spending a few minutes stuck in rain-mud, we hit the terminal where I could not have been more blown away. The parking lot is completely finished needing only a final coat of tar and painting to be ready for business, and as we came upon the massive terminal, a few men worked on the bridge that lead to the passenger unloading area, a sort of gateway to the future. We inched over and could see the airport terminal in its entirety.
The structure was so close to completion, it was easy to imagine it in its final form. All the steel was up and fitted, the roof was over 90% complete and the curbs of the drivelanes were already done. Even architectural aesthetics like huge 100% harvested wood overhangs that will shield passengers from the rain was completed. We stepped inside the open doorway to find much of the interior shaping into its final form as well. Office areas, ticketing counters, baggage and security checking features (which will be fitted with the most elaborate security system to date) and administrative areas were quite visible, the whole of it designed like the existing airport only much, much bigger. I could see all the anxious vacationers already, families, spring breakers and all sorts of wayfarers bustling up and down the halls ready to start their getaway to Panama City Beach.
Upstairs were more administrative areas as well as the nearly completed passenger loading areas and gate access. There was enough space for seven total gates more than double what the current airport can house. There were gaping areas for windows and also in the ceiling for sky lights that will literally flood the airport with natural light. Out the window, in the distance the fire safety, storage and maintenance buildings were nearly ready for use. I could also see the imposing control tower, a 12 story 120 ft structure, soon to be topped in metal framing.
As I walked the gate areas, the realization of the airport’s effect on Panama City Beach struck me profoundly. There have been all sorts of discussion on this topic, even debates started by yours truly, but once I visited the site, I understood. This airport really will change everything. Consider how well Panama City Beach has done for a destination the last 20 years. For such a small place, we’ve done quite well; even now during a recession we continue to do well. All this progress and prosperity, it’s difficult to realize that, truly, PCB development and growth has been choked by the current airport. And it may not be until the first 737 lands that people begin to understand what the new airport will amount to, but rest assured the impact will be gamechanging. And it starts with carriers.
Because New Orleans and Jacksonville are the closest Southwest carriers, and based on their business model, it is very likely Southwest will be Panama City Beach’s low cost carrier. What that simple sounding circumstance translates to is the curing of Panama City Beach’s greatest economic hindrance: the off season. That time of year will be completely transformed by cheap flights inflating a dreary few months into full-on seasonal status. Can you imagine what being a year-round destination will be like? We’d be a mini-Miami. Even if you think of it on a smaller scale, as I toured the incomplete airport, it occurred to me that 737s will carry anywhere from 138-200 people. That is significantly more than the current 74 people on a single flight into the existing airport. That’s double the people arriving at a deeply reduced rate. And that’s not just with Southwest. Our current flagship carrier, Delta, will no longer be limited by the parameters of the existing airport and flight costs will drop making Panama City Beach the most likely landing place for vacationers. No more Tallahassee and no more Pensacola.
The date of completion of the airport will play a major role as well. The airport will be completed around the same time analysts and pundits predict the economy to rebound. Panama City Beach will see a surge of development and increases in capital.
This evolution of Panama City Beach, by way of the new airport, will force certain deflected issues to be seriously discussed. Issues like new improved developments, form-based coding, hospitality training and more. For me, all this had been but talking points, theories and ideas. But when I walked down the massive airport, the area on which it sits and the ease with which vacationers will get to PCB ,it became quite clear to me. Because of the new airport, 10 years from now Panama City Beach will be a completely different place: suddenly feeling much closer to Miami than ever before.
A side note: Before I left the site I stopped by the construction trailer to thank the staff. On the wall there was a big digital clock counting down the time remaining. At the time, the clock read 283 days, 12 hours, 54 minutes, 23 seconds and counting. Everything is on schedule.