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Tampa Bay area general aviation airports grow and thrive in their communities

(June 7, 2018) As Tampa International Airport has celebrated several developments and milestones over the past couple of years, its general aviation airports have been quietly making some success stories of their own. Peter O. Knight Airport

Along with providing traffic relief to TPA and convenient landing and takeoff options for private and small jets coming in and out of Hillsborough County, the three GA airports along with TPA’s fixed base operators have added amenities, flight schools and community events that have raised both the airports’ reputations and economic impact in the Tampa Bay area.

“Everyone knows the exciting things that have been happening at Tampa International as far as new nonstop flights and passenger growth,” TPA Director of General Aviation Brett Fay said. “The GA airports are a little bit less understood. But they play a very important role in our overall operations, as well as our local economy.”

Tampa Executive Airport, which is near the I-4 and I-275 interchange, has doubled its operations in the last two years. TPA’s FBO Sheltair recently invested $6.5 million in its 7.5-acre, 170,000-square-foot complex, adding a fifth hangar and office space as part of a 32,000-square-foot expansion. Peter O. Knight Airport at Davis Islands welcomed the exciting ICON Aircraft and its flight training programs for its unique and innovative amphibious light sport planes. And Plant City Airport has become a much larger presence in the small, rural community for its successful Planes, Trains and Automobiles event.

Among the three GA airports, there are now five different flight schools filling their rosters with enthusiastic pilots in training.

“They’re actually having a difficult time keeping up with demand,” Fay said, adding that “activity breeds activity” at all of the airports and FBOs.

More flight operations at the GA airports means more jobs, and many of these are “high-skilled, high-paying jobs,” he said. In addition to that, the three airports and TPA’s GA facilities are instrumental in attracting new businesses to the area, as well as major events such as the College Football Championships, Super Bowl, IIFA Awards and Republican National Convention to town.

According to the latest economic impact study completed in 2014, Tampa Executive Airport has a $44 million impact on its community, Peter O. Knight Airport has a $33 million impact and Plant City Airport has a $10 million impact. Those numbers are expected to be greater when another study is conducted later this year.

For Fay, who came from Lakeland Linder Regional Airport to take over the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority GA airport operations in September 2015, helping the airports and FBOs flourish over the last couple of years has been a lot of work but highly gratifying.   

One of the projects that he’s most proud of is the recently completed Runway 4-22 rehabilitation project at Peter O. Knight Airport, which was the airport’s first FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) eligible project, bringing a significant savings to the Authority along with using a revolutionary reclamation process in the asphalt surface course. The process also helped greatly reduce trucks, materials and equipment traffic in and out of the Davis Islands neighborhoods.

“The Aviation Authority has built a positive relationship with the Davis Islands community over years of partnership and commitment to minimizing the airport’s impact on community enjoyment,” Fay said. “One of the larger challenges of the project was maintaining the positive perception of the airport and contributing to the well-being of the surrounding community during construction.”

With all of the exciting developments and increased activity in and around the county’s GA airports, TPA has also made recent efforts to help brand and market the airports, giving them more of an identity to its employees, customers and tenants, as well to the communities where they reside. Simple things like printing Spanish-language promotional flyers for Plant City Airport events and working to get others to call Peter O. Knight by its official international code, TPF, instead of “POK” can make difference in how those airports are valued and perceived.

“We tend to think of each airport as needing to do everything,” TPA Marketing Manager Danny Cooper said. “In reality, we are blessed with a system of General Aviation facilities and airports that collectively is among the best in the country. The way ahead for us in branding and marketing is to leverage the advantages of the entire system and the relationship to TPA, while maintaining and promoting the individual characteristics, beauty and charm of TPF, VDF and PCM.”

TPA General Aviation Airports - By the Numbers

Estimated private/corporate plane flight counts from April 2017 – April 2018*

Tampa Executive Airport – 96,000+ flights

Peter O. Knight Airport – 66,000+ flights

Plant City Airport – 50,000+ flights

Tampa International Airport – 22,653 flights

*The three general aviation airports are non-towered so the flight counts are based on a consultant’s estimates of activities