By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTThere’s a new airport in the works that—along with other infrastructure developments in the region—could someday help alter the scene for distribution and warehousing in the US Southeast—markets that often play big for international trade with the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
Located in Northwest Bay County, FL, north of County Highway 388 approximately five miles west of State Highway 77, the new Panama City - Bay County International Airport (PFN) will replace the currently operating airport in Panama City, FL. That airport, built in 1948, is deemed landlocked and too small to offer flights of any consequences.
“Several years ago we were hit with issues that made it apparent the current airport could not expand,” says Kip Turner, director of operations for PFN. “There’s no room for a longer runway, plus there’s airspace issues in association with nearby Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB).”
PFN is particularly constrained by residential and business development on three sides and North Bay on the fourth side. Its existing Runway Safety Areas (RSAs) do not meet current federal standards.
Add to that, the airport is in a flood zone.
The new airport, on the other hand, offers great potential for growth since it is being constructed on approximately 1,300 acres of a 4,000-acre site. This large site offers ample room for airport expansion.
Even more significant, the site sits within approximately 75,000 acres of undeveloped land that will also offer opportunities for residential, commercial and business development, as well as some 41,000 acres for perpetual conversation of the shoreline, adjacent wetlands and the watershed of West Bay. In fact, the new PFN will be the first airport built in the United States since 9/11, and is allegedly the largest greenfield infrastructure project ongoing at the moment in the United States—quite a feat, considering these economic distressed times.
Already the project is getting good responses from carriers. Officials expect to be making an announcement soon.
“One reason is we offer a two million population catchment area,” says Tom Morgan, St. Joe’s president for the commercial business.
Roderick Wilson, St. Joe’s president - West Bay Sector, regards the event a “game changer.” “We are on the cusp of remarkable changes for the region,” he ways.
The St. Joe Company, headquartered in WaterSound, FL, is the landowner and developer of the project. For years it operated as a lumber company in the region.
Particularly noteworthy are the new airport’s international designation, access to government services such as customs, and a 10,000 runway, which is sufficient to handle the biggest cargo aircraft. Combined, these provide the new PFN with significant competitive advantages for international airfreight.
“The 10,000 foot runway can be expanded to 12,000 feet,” adds Turner.
During this AJOT reporter’s tour of the project in February, the airport was already 45 percent complete. Officials estimate it will be fully operational by May 2010. By April-May 2009 they expect to see a completed runway, taxiway, and general aviation site.
By PFN are not the only projects underway that, when combined, could push this region into a transportation center with the potential to compete with nearby Mobile, AL; New Orleans; and even Miami. For one, the region—known as Florida’s Great Northwest, provides interstate highway access, railroad and seaport service. Once business develops, as a result of Greenfield projects that are underway, these transportation options can serve growing volumes of shipments.
“For one, Interstate 10, which connects to Interstates 75 and 65 is 35 miles north of the new airport d