It is time to think ahead and relocate the Punta Gorda Airport to the eastern border of Charlotte County with Desoto County. Not another penny should be spent on the current location, which is nothing more than a cobble job of trying to fit a regional airport into a previous historical “military training facility” adjacent to a growing municipality.
The city of Punta Gorda continues to annex property in an easterly direction, as evidenced by the sanitary sewer it is building along Jones Loop Road. The current terminal does not provide direct access to the passenger airplanes parked at the gates. The “ramps” provided do not meet minimum handicapped accessible slopes for handicapped passengers. The passengers must walk outside to gain access to the airplanes in the hot summer and inclement weather. The waiting room reminds one of the “Great Hall” at Ellis Island where immigrants waited their turn to be examined. The modifications to the restaurant have resulted in an obstructed view and cave-like atmosphere.
The current airport should be relegated to a general aviation/industrial airport, where the lots that have been platted for development are marketed by the Charlotte County Department of Economic Development for industrial/commercial enterprises which would not be burdened by passenger airline operations. The development of these parcels will also generate additional employment in Charlotte County.
It is quite evident that the housing developments are moving ever closer to Charlotte County’s airport, which was previously mentioned is being in close proximity to the city of Punta Gorda. It is a matter of record that the majority of air carrier accidents occur during landing or takeoff operations. The landing pattern and often the takeoff pattern of current airport passenger flights are operated at a low altitude over existing housing developments due to the proximity of the airport to the housing developments. These residents are aware of these passenger-carrier operations over their homes. There have been complaints filed with their Punta Gorda City Council concerning the noise generated by these low-flying flights in close proximity to their homes and with letters to the editors of the Sun newspapers. The closer the developments are to the airport, the louder the noise and the more numerous the complaints.
The advantages to moving the airport to the Charlotte County/Desoto County line are numerous. It removes the passenger traffic vehicles from the local roads. It provides a state highway connection, U.S. 17, to the airport, Interstate 75 and the Walmart warehouse complex, which would be adjacent to the relocated airport. It locates the airport where it can service Desoto County and the center of the state, making it a more desirable location for a passenger terminal and business generator for airline companies, potentially attracting other passenger carriers.
The new airport can be designed from scratch and include the amenities which are desirable in an airport: Runways designed in a desirable configuration that are not burdened by having to use those that were designed for military training exercises, limited by adjacent development and environmental concerns. Passenger jetways which meet handicap requirements and protect the passengers from the summer heat and inclement weather. Well-planned and designed passenger drop-off, ticketing, adequate luggage collection and pickup systems, passenger pick-up and parking lots. Passenger amenities such as car rental vendors, food courts, restrooms, boutiques. Passenger information/assistance, tourism information, including a Chamber of Commerce office.
How to pay for this new airport? Besides federal and state grants, local funding and bonding, the Charlotte County Airport Authority should start charging passenger landing and departure fees and selling jet fuel to Allegiant, not just charging a pumping fee for the Allegiant jet fuel they are storing.
With the incredible growth Florida is realizing, the relocated airport can serve as a regional airport in the center of the state, close to the new Naples/Lakeland toll road recently approved by Gov. DeSantis. This new toll road will be a game-changer as it will invigorate the growth of Arcadia, making it a true “regional center.”
The Charlotte County Commission should assume control of the Charlotte County Airport Authority, as provided for by Florida state statutes; then plan, design and construct a relocated regional airport near the Charlotte/Desoto county line. Alternatively, Desoto County could establish a “regional airport authority” and build the new regional airport next to the new toll road in Desoto County.