Posted: 05/31 @ 10:05 pmLake Wales Airport Still Recovering from 2004 Trio of Hurricanes
Airport director Betty Hill said the airport has never fully recovered from the triple blast of hurricanes in 2004 that virtually blew the place down. Charley, the first storm, did the most damage and Frances and Jeanne leveled anything that was teetering.
All that remained virtually unscathed was the pavement.
“The last few years, we’re still just trying hard to get back on our feet,” Hill said.
The city opened a new main airport building two years ago. But the new building is less than half the size of the one that blew down.
The opening of the new building was a big step forward, and Hill is hoping for more progress, a step at a time. Before the hurricanes, the airport featured a nice snack bar. Officials would like to see another, but say more traffic at the airport is necessary.
The airport has been known for decades as a skydiving hub. But Dave “Pink” Floyd, a skydiver, photographer, videographer and airport volunteer, said the skydiving traffic is off at least 25 percent, maybe more.
It has become much more expensive to skydive than in decades past. Floyd said that in 1975 he bought a “rig,” meaning a parachute and all the accompaniments, for $300. He said he bought a high-end new rig recently for $8,000.
In May, one of the slowest months of the year at the airport, there were about 900 take-offs and landings, a small number. The winter months can bring 1,500 take-offs or landings, or more.
Here are some of the challenges to pumping life into the airport.
Hill and Floyd say they’re aggressively trying to recruit a flight school to the city airport, which would bring more planes, more aviation fuel sales and more business. But it’s unclear whether the school could operate in the main building or another would need to be built.
The airport has 16 T-hangars for planes and all are leased, with a demand for more. City Economic Development Director Harold Gallup said he is working on a master plan for the airport and surrounding land and whether to add more T-hangars will be addressed.
Airport officials would like to expand one of the two 4,000-foot runways another 1,200 feet, to make it 5,200 feet. Gallup said he is scouring every possible source of funding. Airport runways are often extended with state grant money, but there isn’t as much money available as in years past.
The airport sees its share of corporate planes now, but Gallup said extending one of the runways would upgrade the airport because it would have the capacity to land larger corporate planes.
Gallup said the Lake Wales airport must position itself to attract business from the upcoming opening of Legoland.
[ Rick Rousos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-401-6968.]