PC Airport Relocation Project

Just more than two years from now, flights going to Germany, the Netherlands and Canada could be just a short drive from your hometown.

There are plans for a large expansion of the Panama City-Bay County Airport.

However, what will that mean for small regional airports in the Wiregrass? We will take a look in Part One of our special series, Airport Squeeze.

For most of us, when we want to travel by air, we call around to all the airports in the area and drive as far as Atlanta to get the best fare.

However, that could all change when Panama City opens its new airport and brings more airlines and more flights to the Florida Panhandle.

Designs for the new Panama City-Bay County International Airport come after about 10-years of planning.

The current airport has been in the same location since the 1930's, and in short, is overwhelmed by federal restrictions.

"That limits the number of airlines that can come in and operate here,” says PFN Airport & Industrial District Executive Director Randy Curtis. “We've had carriers tell us in the past that they would like to come to the market, they have an interest in it, but with the restrictions, it's prohibitive from an economic perspective for them to come here."

Because of that, there is hardly any competition between airlines, which means good service and low fares are hard to come by.

Some say moving the airport could solve this problem. It would address the main issues that right now, are standing in the way.

One of the most critical problems is the length of the current airport's runway. At only 6300 feet, it is one of the shortest in the state.

It also has only 59-feet of safety area at the end, while the FAA requires 1000.

Then, there is the location concern.

The airport is currently sitting in a hurricane storm surge zone, and in the past 10-years, as much as a third of the airport has been under water.

It’s also sandwiched between Tyndall Air Force Base and Eglin Air Force Base, which causes a constant conflict with military air space.

Plus, the current location is also heavily surrounded by residential neighborhoods, a highway and Saint Andrews Bay, leaving no room for expansion.

"What we want to do is be able to provide an airport that does not have the restrictions we have today. So those carriers can operate here and operate profitably and hopefully, that will, in turn, result in the level of competition we need to get the fares at an appropriate level," explains Curtis.

The FAA has given the go ahead for the project and federal funding could be available to help.

It will be built in West Bay County on 4000 acres of land, donated by the Saint Joe Company.

It's important to note that they are not just building an airport.

It is actually part of a large land-US development plan, which consists of about 75,000 acres of land; land that, in perspective is about 20-percent larger than the District of Columbia.

Building the airport is only the first step.

Those involved in the project are planning to break ground in mid-spring.

We will tell you what this means for Panama City's industrial growth and how this affects the Wiregrass in Part 2 of Airport Squeeze, Thursday.