Fernandina Beach Municipal Opts for Airplane-Shaped Terminal Concept

Victoria Soukup
Published in: 

Fernandina Beach Airport (FHB) didn’t simply build a new terminal to handle general aviation operations for Amelia Island, just off Florida’s northeast coast. The project team took a page from the community’s history book and designed the building to resemble the iconic 4FU Corsair aircraft that flew from the airport during World War II. 

The new $4.5 million terminal, which is scheduled to open in June, is expected to attract more air traffic to the small city-owned airport and to serve as a destination for the entire community—young and old, aviators and non-aviators. 

“This new terminal facility is a unique structure that stands out within the airport industry,” says Airport Manager Nathan Coyle. “The building is intended to recognize the history of aviation in Fernandina Beach while also providing first-class service to the aviation community and the general public alike. The facility will provide a home for airport staff and the airport’s new FBO, Bent Wing Flight Services; and our hope is that the building will be a hub of activity at the airport.”


Project: New Terminal 

Location: Fernandina Beach (FL) Municipal Airport 

Size: 12,500 sq. ft. 

Cost: $4.5 million

Funding: $1.34 million supplied by airport; $1.64 million in FL Dept. of Transportation grants; $356,355 FAA grant; $352,590 FL Dept. of Economic Opportunity grant; $336,000 in interest-free loans from new FBO that will be repaid by airport via rent credits

Airport Owner: City of Fernandina Beach, FL

Fixed-Base Operator: Bent Wing Flight Services

Traffic Volume: 47,000 aircraft ops in 2017

Design/Engineering/Architectural Support/Construction Admin: Passero Associates

Contractor: F&G Construction General Contractors

Electrical Sub-Contractor: Parker Electric

Project Status: Due to be completed in June

Noteworthy Details: Building resembles Corsair aircraft that flew out of airport in World War II; built to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds; 2nd story observation deck open to public

The two-story, 12,500-square-foot structure replaces an aging, non-descript trailer that previously housed the airport management offices and an old metal hangar that housed FBO facilities. 

Passero Associates, the firm that designed the eye-catching building, doubts that there is another terminal like it anywhere else in the world. “It’s obviously very unique,” says Passero Vice President Andrew Holesko. “Constructing this new building is the most significant project at the airport since the facility opened 70 years ago. We believe it will literally change the airport, the operation and its long-term success in the community.”

Design Celebrates Aviation History

The small city-appointed committee that oversaw early planning for the project insisted that the new terminal include more than just office space for the airport and FBO. Members also wanted the new building to present a professional appearance for the airport, portray the area’s aviation history and provide space for airport meetings, community gatherings, private events and educational opportunities for local youths. 

With expectations running high, the handful of initial concept drawings originally presented by Passero proved too traditional. “We wanted an exceptional building that was truly unique,” explains committee member and FBO owner Brian Echard. “A lot of municipal airports have the traditional square box facility, but we wanted a building that would set us apart from the rest.”

After listening to the committee’s feedback and meeting with Echard to review design options, Passero Architect Christopher Nardone began sketching a building that resembled a Corsair. “That’s where the ultimate concept started—right after the committee meeting, on a blank piece of paper,” Holesko relates. A month later, the firm returned with a more refined drawing, and the committee unanimously embraced the concept. 

The design resonated with committee members because FHB opened during World War II as a training facility for U.S. Navy pilots flying propeller-driven 4FU Corsairs. “The genesis of the terminal was to design a facility that would celebrate aviation and recognize the sacrifices made by the military men and women who served in World War II,” explains Nardone. “And there was nothing more significant than the Corsair to be the image of the terminal and celebrate the rich history of the aircraft.”

Landside visitors enter the building through the tail section, which also serves as a porte-cochere; airside entry occurs through the nose area. Inside the building, a half-scale Corsair replica hangs from the ceiling of the two-story lobby under a skylight shaped like a cockpit. The structure’s inverted gull wings, constructed from steel, shelter an observation deck on the airport side of the building and a shade hangar for aircraft that park on the FBO side.

 Nardone describes the inside of the building as “very open, resembling a large fuselage.” One side of the building houses FBO facilities on both floors. Features include a reception area, shower room for pilots, kitchen/café area, a large conference room and executive offices. The first floor of the other side of the building houses more FBO space—a pilot lounge, flight planning area, small conference room and public restrooms—plus the airport administration offices, a breakroom and additional public restrooms. A breezeway connects the two sides, and restrooms on the airport side are accessible from the breezeway. On the second floor is a large administration conference room with a catering breakroom and the covered observation deck that is open to the public.

Passero’s design separates the airport operations areas, public areas and FBO facilities, so that when the FBO is closed, the rest of the building, including restrooms, can remain open, accessible and operational.

Airport facilities span about 4,800 square feet, including the covered observation deck and breezeway. The FBO occupies approximately 5,500 square feet, plus another 2,200 square feet for the shade hangar. 

Built to Withstand Hurricane Winds

In order to meet requirements for funding from the Florida Department of Transportation, the terminal was designed to withstand 140 mph winds, which is the threshold for a Category 4 hurricane.  For example, the exterior was constructed with concrete block walls and finished with stucco.  

“It is not a place to operate during a hurricane or other natural disaster; it is intended to serve as a place to serve the community after a disaster,” Nardone explains. “Fernandina Beach is a barrier island. If there was a major storm and bridges were knocked out, the only means of support would be to utilize the airfield to bring in supplies and people. We designed the building to ensure that after a storm, the building would be functional and able to serve the community.”

Naturally, constructing the terminal to withstand a Category 4 hurricane increased its price tag. “The largest criticism of the project has been related to the $400 per-square-foot cost of the building,” notes Holesko. “It’s an expensive building, but consistent with construction industry costs for the strength of the building that is provided.”

Project funding came from several sources. The airport provided $1.342 million, and grants from the Florida Department of Transportation covered another $1.64 million. A $356,355 FAA grant and $352,590 Florida Department of Economic Opportunity grant defrayed other costs. In addition, Bent Wing Flight Services provided a $286,500 no-interest loan to acquire and install the nose and tail of the building, plus a $50,500 interest-free loan to support early design/engineering costs for the project. Both loans were part of the company’s winning response to the airport’s request for FBO proposals. The airport will repay the loans by issuing rent credits. “It was an upfront funding source that allowed us to complete the nose and tail of the facility,” Coyle explains. 

Bent Wing also purchased the Corsair replica and upgraded fixtures to the tune of an additional $120,000.

New Terminal, New FBO

Bent Wing began operating on April 1, replacing the former FBO that had been at the airport for 25 years. As owner of the new FBO, Echard hopes to attract more flight activity.    

“I want more volume,” he says. “I think more volume creates more opportunity for the airport and the community. And in order to do that, I have to offer competitive fuel prices and first-class aviation services.”

Last year, the non-towered airport logged 47,000 operations on its three runways. Echard thinks that number can only go up. “The uniqueness of the building will drive a lot of activity here,” he predicts. “From the air, the terminal really does look like a giant World War II aircraft sitting on the ramp. We’re going to have a lot of World War II memorabilia inside the terminal, and we expect to have a fly-In for the grand opening later this year. Fernandina Beach will become a prominent gathering place for everyone interested in aviation.”

Coyle couldn’t agree more. “We envision this facility to be the hub of the airport. Not only will we have the FBO and airport staff in one location to provide better services to our users, but we also expect that other agencies such as Civil Air Patrol, the Experimental Aircraft Association and the Friends of Fernandina Aviation will benefit from the new meeting and gathering spaces.”

Holesko predicts the new terminal will generate interest in the airport like never before. “The location of the terminal building offers an unobstructed central view of the entire airfield,” he notes. “There is a desire to get young people up on the observation deck to experience aviation and learn about flight. And even better, any member of the public can access the deck and spend time there. Or, it can be an entertainment venue for luncheons, business meetings or weddings. The city expects that all of those things will happen at some point.”  

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