Paul Andrews is Vice Chair of the Charlotte County Airport Authority. Column provided to the Charlotte Sun.
Airport Staff Has Made a Difference
PUNTA GORDA (October 11, 2021) – For almost 10 years I have had the good fortune to sit on the Board of one of the most successful airports in the U.S. I maintain a long-held belief that the key to success is having right leadership in place. As I look back on the last five years at Punta Gorda Airport (PGD), it is evident that is exactly what we have accomplished based on all the progress and improvements made since James W. Parish, P.E. became our CEO in 2016.
Five years ago, we didn’t have a secondary runway long enough to handle all our airline flights. Now, thanks to completing an award-winning rehabilitation project recognized by the FDOT as “2020 Project of the Year,” a 593-foot extension was added on the south end of Runway 15-33 increasing the length to 6,281 feet. This extension was necessary for commercial airline traffic to continue uninterrupted when Runway 4-22 is closed for its rehabilitation in January 2022.
Five years ago, we didn’t have enough parking for our passengers or airliners. Since then, we’ve added 1,000 new auto parking spots and two more spots for commercial airliners.
Five years ago, Allegiant only served about 30 cities, and now provides service to 50+ destinations. Sun Country is also going to be serving PGD with a seasonal route to Minneapolis this October through April.
Five years ago, we expanded the Bailey Terminal, and we’re already planning to expand it once again. Past security, The Junction is constructing a 40-seat bar with runway-front views and expanding their kitchen to offer more menu options; planned to open in early 2022. We’re also designing a behind-the-scenes baggage handling system and making room for more passenger seating, however construction is still a couple years out.
Five years ago, we didn’t have any workforce development programs on airport grounds, and now we have three. The domestic demand for professional pilots and airplane mechanics has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Both Flight Fast Track and AeroGuard train professional commercial pilots here at PGD. AeroGuard, in partnership with SkyWest, even offers $17,500 in Tuition Reimbursements for future pilots in their program.
Plus, the success of Charlotte Technical College’s Aviation Maintenance Technician School is really taking off. Nearly 50 adults and more than 20 high-school seniors kicked off the program this August. They’ve already started a feeder program for younger high school students and are planning to offer evening classes for adults starting in January. Certified Airframe & Powerplant Mechanics graduating from CTC will make an average of $69,000 annually, so this is a key win for our community and economic development.
Five years ago, the north side of the airport was largely undeveloped. Today, the new 13,000-square-foot PGD Air Center is under construction along with a new 510,000-square-foot aircraft ramp; planned to open in Spring 2022. PGD’s Master Plan Update, approved by the FAA in 2018, recommended relocating general aviation activities (GA) to the Aviation Expansion Area off Challenger Blvd, known as the PGD AviEx, so the commercial air service has room to grow. PGD AviEx will become a hub for GA activities to flourish, as well as a prime spot for onsite flight schools, aircraft maintenance services and related training programs to expand. Learn more about the plans at PGDAviEx.com.
All of these developments don’t happen overnight, and they don’t happen without a lot of hard work and collaboration – both internally and externally.
While the Charlotte Airport Authority Board makes key policy decisions, provides guidance and representation in our community, we wouldn’t have been able to attain these successes without the strong leadership of CEO Parish. Parish understands how partnerships with educational institutions, business tenants and contractors, plus more than 200 T-Hangar tenants, make our airport community strong. It’s reinforced by everyone standing behind PGD’s mission of “serving business and community through aviation.”
Whenever I stop by the office it is very clear that our CEO James Parish leads from the front, by example. He takes an active role in managing a great team of nearly 100 Airport Authority employees that are dedicated to smooth airport operations, improvements, efficiency and safety. Despite the ups and downs of a worldwide pandemic, our team has retained their unwavering commitment. I hope you’ll join me in letting them know that they are appreciated.