20:18 PM

Hillsborough's general aviation airports come flying back

At Hillsborough County’s three general aviation airports, the future is looking optimistic – even strong.

After an initial dip in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, flight operations are ticking up, airplane fuel is flowing and several impressive new construction projects are wrapping up.

“The future for general aviation is bright,” said Brett Fay, the Director of General Aviation overseeing all of Hillsborough’s reliever airports. “What we’re seeing in the trends is that general aviation is going to play a major part in our local economy and that building this infrastructure now is hugely important.”

For 2020, general aviation operations at Peter O. Knight, Plant City Airport, Tampa Executive and TPA’s two fixed-base operators ended the year only down 12 percent compared to 2019 – a drop due largely to a weak spring when the pandemic first arrived in Florida. By summer, operations and fuel flowage – a major revenue source – had rebounded.

“Our business is booming right now,” said Fay.

The GA airports used the relative slowdown to make significant progress on several major improvements.

One of the biggest changes: The terminal renovation at Tampa Executive, which is located near the I-4/I-75 corridor. The $1.2 million renovation gave the 20-year-old building a major facelift, including everything from new bathrooms and flooring to new LED lighting and critical repairs/enhancements. The project officially finished in late October 2020.

“We’ve got a beautiful terminal building,” said Fay. “These changes and enhancements put that terminal building right up there with the nicest facilities you will find in general aviation.”

Meanwhile, just outside the terminal, crews are putting the finishing touches on a massive upgrade to the airfield, including new runway pavement, lighting, navigational aids and other maintenance. The $7.7 million project is slated to finish in April.

At Plant City Airport, crews recently finished construction on a new fuel farm and airplane ramp on the airfield, modernizing the facilities and improving service.

Finally, Sheltair, a fixed-base operator at Tampa International Airport, was recently approved to construct a new 110,000 square-foot hangar/office complex. This facility will serve as an important new revenue source for the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, and also signifies a substantial new investment by Sheltair.