Punta Gorda Airport Expands General Aviation Facilities

Punta Gorda Airport Expands General Aviation Facilities
Author: 
Mike Schwanz
Published in: 
September
2022

A major expansion project catering to the needs of general aviation traffic is well underway at Punta Gorda Airport (PGD) in southwestern Florida. By relocating existing general aviation and FBO activities away from the main terminal area, the airport also will relieve congestion and create more room for commercial airliners.

The $18 million endeavor, referred to as PGD AviEx, is being executed in three phases on an otherwise largely undeveloped tract of land on the north side of the airfield. Airport executives are working to make the area a bustling hub for further general aviation activity and an economic development engine for the entire region. 

The first phase, completed this spring, added 510,000 square feet of ramp space and extended Taxiway E. Phase Two culminated with the opening of the PGD Air Center in August. The new 13,500-square-foot facility includes meeting and event space, a restaurant/bar, leasable office suites, a pilot lounge and more space for FBO activities and aircraft parking on the new ramp.

facts&figures

Project: Expansion of General Aviation Facilities

Location: Punta Gorda (FL) Airport

2021 Operations: 87,599

2021 Passenger Volume: 1.5 million

Based Aircraft: 396

General Aviation Expansion Project:
PGD AviEx

Key Components: 510,000 sq. ft. of new ramp space; taxiway extension; new Air Center; 19 box hangars, 24 T hangars; large FBO hangar

Total Budget: $18 million

Construction: 2021-2023

Phase 1 & 2 Engineering Consultant: Michael Baker Int’l

Apron Construction/Taxiway Extension: Ajax Paving Industries

PGD Air Center: 13,500 sq. ft.

Features: Larger lobby with high ceilings & expansive airfield views; Rosati’s Pizza with outdoor patio; leasable office suites; pilot lounge; meeting/event space; local art & flora

Building Design: Michael Baker Int’l

Building Contractor: Johnson-Laux Construction

Open for Business: July 2023

New Hangars: 19 box hangars (50- and 60-ft. square); 24 T hangars

Hangar Design: AECOM

Construction: Stellar

Anticipated Completion: By year-end

Design/Build Team for FBO Hangar: Owen-Ames-Kimball

Anticipated Construction: 2023

Key Benefits: New Air Center & hangars are designed to attract more general aviation traffic & associated business; relocating previous general aviation facilities creates more room for commercial traffic in main terminal area

Associated Project: Classroom/hangar for Aviation Maintenance Technician School

Cost: $3 million

Funding: State of Florida

Owner: Charlotte County Airport Authority

Long-Term Lessee: Charlotte Technical College

Anticipated Completion: 2024

Phase Three is currently underway and includes a slew of new hangars. The project team expects crews to complete 19 box hangars and 24 T hangars by the end of this year. Construction of a large FBO hangar adjacent to the new Air Center is slated for 2023.

Before all of the recent and current development, PGD was already home to a strong aerospace and aviation community. Tenants include avionics shops, aircraft service providers, flight schools, a luxury charter service, an air ambulance operator and a school for aircraft maintenance technicians. With only 60% of its 2,000 acres already developed, the airport has plenty of space for current tenants to expand and new businesses to join the fold.

“We believe we can attract many more people within the aviation industry,” says James Parish, chief executive officer of PGD and the Charlotte County Airport Authority. “The current expansion project encompasses about 100 acres, so there is still a lot of available land.”

New businesses, of course, would boost the airport’s bottom line with additional lease revenue. PGD also has proprietary rights to all fuel sales on the airfield. In addition to pumping fuel for scheduled carriers, the airport collects income from fuel sales to charter operators, maintenance companies and flight schools.

Parish expects the new general aviation facilities to attract more corporate clients. “This is one area in which we can really expand,” he remarks. “For example, our proposed high-end FBO facility should attract more pilots using corporate jets. We are close to Gulf-access communities such as Venice and Boca Grande, where many people who visit here have second homes.”

New Features           

Michael Baker International served as the primary architectural and engineering consultant for the first two phases of AviEx. “Overall, things were straightforward,” reports Mark Kistler, a vice president with the firm and project manager for this undertaking. “The new ramp section was located on open land. The main design focus was drainage design for the new development, and the design of the extension of Taxiway E.”

The team designed the new PGD Air Center to improve service for a variety of general aviation users. “We wanted the Air Center to reflect the local flavor of this region, with a nice reception area, expansive lounge, local art and flora, high ceilings and plentiful windows offering expansive views of the airfield,” Kistler details.

Construction started in spring 2021 and was completed in a little more than a year. Although airport staff oversaw construction, Kistler frequently visited the site to ensure that the project was progressing as planned.

Airport officials opted to make portions of the new Air Center open to the general public. Specifically, the restaurant/bar will include an outdoor patio that overlooks the airfield. Secure exit doors will restrict access to the airfield. Project designers and PGD management expect the runway-facing restaurant to be a popular attraction for airport employees, local residents and seasonal tourists when the restaurant opens next spring. 

“We are very pleased with how this turned out, and I think everyone in the airport community will enjoy it,” says Kistler.

Funding

The first two phases of AviEx development were fully funded at about $18 million. Sources included the Charlotte County Airport Authority (30%), FAA (35%), Florida Department of Transportation (25%) and passenger facility charges and customer facilities charges (10%).

“As with most of our projects, we did not even start them until we were fully funded,” Parish comments.

The airport tapped into its reserve fund to cover a few minor cost overruns caused by inflation, he adds.

Obstacles Overcome

As with any major construction effort, the AviEx project has included a few unexpected challenges. “Members of our construction crews did miss time due to COVID, and that set us back,” says Parish. “We also had other labor shortages and a few supply-chain issues. We are probably six to nine months behind our original schedule.”

The centerpiece element, however, opened on schedule in August despite an unusual obstacle. When finishing the new Air Center, the project team found it surprisingly difficult to procure light poles for the parking lot. Michael Baker International, Johnson-Laux Construction and airport staff members had to search all over the region to find them.

“We routinely specify DOT standard elements to make it easy to obtain lights from local suppliers. But this year, they have been elusive,” Kistler remarks. “Eventually, a supplier was found. They are now on back order and will arrive this fall.”

In the meantime, PGD installed temporary portable lights.

The last major element of AviEx, a large FBO hangar, has been delayed until 2023. “We received estimates from contractors, but so far, they have been too high,” Parish explains. “We won’t build this facility until the price is within our budget.”

New Maintenance School

Much to the delight of PGD officials, the state of Florida recently earmarked $3 million to construct a new training center within the AviEx footprint. The combined hangar and classroom facility will be part of an FAA-certified school for aircraft maintenance technicians established by Charlotte Technical College in August 2021. 

According to plans, the new facility will include four classrooms to accommodate up to 100 students at a time. Currently, the school holds classes at its main campus in nearby Murdock and in a small hangar at PGD with room for about 50 students. When the new building is completed in 2024, it will greatly increase the number of maintenance technicians the school can train and graduate.

 

“Everyone in the industry is desperate to have more mechanics,” Parish states. “Allegiant Airlines, our main commercial airline here, has told us they are poised to hire graduates of this school right after they graduate. And, of course, our other general aviation clients, as well as military aircraft and air taxis, also need more mechanics.”

Having the school right at the airport will streamline on-the-job training as AviEx attracts more avionics and aircraft maintenance businesses, he adds. 

The Charlotte County Airport Authority, which owns PGD, will construct the building and enter a long-term lease agreement with Charlotte County Public Schools to occupy and maintain the facility.

Return on Investment

With most of the new AviEx facilities complete, Parish looks forward to attracting more general aviation traffic and associated businesses. “Our new Air Center and hangars should entice more pilots and companies into making our airport their permanent base,” he comments. “And once all of our new hangars and the FBO facility are finished, I think we should really be able to compete with other local airports, especially for corporate clients.”

Demand for graduates of the new aircraft maintenance program is high, he reports. “We expect representatives from both airlines and private companies to travel here more often to interview technicians.”

Other Improvements

While AviEx is designed for general aviation clients, PGD is also making improvements to attract more commercial traffic. In fact, Parish was recently named the 2021 Air Carrier Airport Manager of the Year for FAA’s Southern Region Airports Division.

“This is definitely a team award, as our airport stakeholders are working together to increase airline destinations amidst the growing shortage of aviation professionals,” Parish says. Specifically, he credits the airport’s “small but resilient staff” and “forward-thinking board.”

Two major runway improvements were performed in the last two years. In 2021, PGD rebuilt and extended Runway 15-33 an extra 593 feet, to a total of 6,281 feet. This year, PGD is rebuilding its 7,193-foot main runway, 4-22, to meet increasing traffic from both Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines. Kimley-Horn designed the project and Wright Construction Group is executing its plans.

“Both runways were built in the 1940s, and just had to be redone,” Parish remarks.

Also of note: Allegiant is partnering in the development of a vacation spot for tourists on the north side of Charlotte Harbor in Port Charlotte. Located just six miles from the airport, Sunseeker Resort is sure to bring in more passenger traffic to PGD when it opens in 2023, notes Parish.

One local event that regularly boosts interest in commercial and general aviation is the Florida International Air Show, which is often held at PGD. It was on hiatus this year while crews reconstruct Runway 4-22, but is scheduled to be back with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in November 2023. “This is a good promotional event for the community, and gets people more interested in aviation,” says Parish. “With the main runway improvements, we can handle any aircraft that comes here. And our newly built ramp will give planes more room to park during the show.”

Subcategory: 
General Aviation

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