For years the county has aimed at developing Airglades Airport into a formidable economic engine to fuel a new prosperity. Plans for Airglades International Airport (AIA) are finally beginning to come together. At their November commission meeting, the board heard a report from AIA President Fred Ford on just how far plans have progressed.
Mr. Ford began his presentation expressing his appreciation to county staff, especially County Attorney Mark Lapp for his “impeccable” service in “holding their feet to the fire.” He also had kind words for Airport Manager Tom Vaughan, Public Works Director Shane Parker, Commissioners Darell Harris and Karson Turner, and offered special thanks to County Administrator Charles Chapman for his enthusiasm and support in making the airport a reality, as well as his confidence that the airport will be the county’s “crown jewel.”
Mr. Ford explained that Airglades is in the perfect position to cater to import companies. Within 100 miles of five major airports: Punta Gorda, Fort Myers, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami – AIA is also situated on US 27. That means it can capture business from the maxed-out Miami area and relieve traffic on I-95.
It is a perfect center for logistics.
AIA would be a perfect alternative for perishable cargo coming in from outside the country.
He said that 25 years ago 1.05 billion pounds of perishable cargo entered Miami every year and that amount is trending upward.
He also said that one of the largest flower growers has already committed to sending a certain percentage of its cargo through AIA.
He showed traffic information from 2009 indicating that there were 2,000-3,000 trips per day from Miami Airport at that time. Those figures have risen now to 4,000-5,000 per day.
Hendry County could not and would not try handle all that, he noted, but it can absorb some of the heavy traffic from Miami on I-95 and reroute it to US 27.
Low fuel prices are another attraction for importers, he stated.
In fact, Mr. Ford said that Airglades is “just about the most efficient place in the US for this to happen.”
AIA will be smaller than MIA, but producers are looking for less expensive routes and a permanent home.
Also, AIA’s concept proposes the ultimate layout for perishables with its cargo area all under one roof. That will save time and “touches” (the number of times workers have to come into contact with commodities like fresh flowers) which accelerate deterioration. Miami has 26 buildings with multiple stops for cargo. At AIA, everything will be under one roof and, with the addition of a US Customs office at $150,000 per year, it will provide much improved, faster handling. The customs office would be paid for mostly by those utilizing the airport.
The presence of snail kites in the area have required a realignment of arrival and departure procedures to comply with the environmental assessment for noise. Flight procedures, worked out with Florida Wildlife Commission, will circumvent the birds and also avoid Lake Okeechobee altogether.
AIA will be an important factor for growers and importers and, for the community at large it is expected to:
– Provide ancillary and regional growth
– Increase the tax base and
– Multiply job creation
Currently, the environmental analysis is being completed.
Preliminary construction plans and permitting are expected to commence in March 2017 with site preparation in April 2017 and a Customs Office coming on line about the same time.
The commissioners voted to send a letter to the governor to help seek a user fee based airport designation for AIA, which is required to allow AIA t become a port or entry into the United States. The vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Janet Taylor not in attendance.
Commission Chairman Michael Swindle told Mr. Ford that the board “appreciates your tenacity and vision” in the entire process of enhancing Airglades.