At Wednesday's meeting of the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport Authority, the board addressed issues in the sky and on the ground. One plan in the works will benefit pilots; another initiative is passenger oriented.
The airport will "accelerate evaluation" of one of its top priorities: a 5,000 foot crosswind runway. Beaches International's current airport layout plan includes an FAA approved runway that carries a price tag of $16.6 million. But officials will pursue a revised plan – the so-called "Concept 3 East" plan – with a projected cost of $13.7 million. They intend to pursue a $10 million Florida Department of Transportation grant that's only available in 2013.
In addition, officials hope the airport will qualify for FAA grants which will require ECP to kick in only a fraction of the total cost. If not, they have an alternate plan for a shorter runway that can accommodate all but the largest aircraft.
John Pilcher III, Airport Authority Chairman, said the crosswind runway will benefit more than just smaller aircraft and general aviation. "If we have a problem on the main runway, an occurrence of any kind, we have to shut the airport down until that is abated," said Pilcher. "With a crosswind runway you have options to bring aircraft in... at five thousand feet there's not much we can't land out here if we had to in an emergency situation."
Meanwhile, the board wants to reduce the cost of taxi service for passengers arriving at ECP. They hope to smooth out the process and save customers money by allowing one ground transportation provider to set up shop inside the terminal.
Pilcher said it's not a step toward selecting a single provider for taxi service; other companies will still offer ground transportation but they will recruit passengers curb side. "I have said from day one that I do not want to go to a single service vendor for our taxi service," said Pilcher. "It will cut a lot of people who have been dedicated to this airport out of a job... I don't believe in that."
Board members think a terminal-based provider will improve customer service and possibly offer lower fares. "We don't want people to get off and be going to their destination and feel like they have just saved on their airfare but then have paid the difference in their cab fare," said board member Dawn Moliterno.
Two transportation companies submitted proposals for review. Airport management will rank the firms and begin negotiating the terms of the in-terminal deal. The board will re-address the matter at its March meeting.