Beginning next month, cardinals and seagulls will get together again. Southwest Airlines is bringing back non-stop flights to St. Louis from Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP).
The service had a test run last year; flights to and from the Gateway City were offered from June through August 2012. This year, the schedule will be expanded from March 9 through August 10 and includes a daily non-stop flight from ECP to Lambert-St. Louis International Airport (STL). The route's regular departure time will be 12:05 p.m. with arrival at 2:05 p.m.
"I think what it basically says was they had very good success in that trial market that they did last year," said John Wheat, ECP's Executive Director. "It really shows that there's a demand… which is very exciting."
Sometime this summer, people who park in the lot in front of Beaches International's terminal won't get wet if it's raining. At its Wednesday meeting, the Airport Authority board approved a $1.5 million covering for about 300 parking spaces. Also included is a covered walkway from the lot to the terminal.
Officials said the canvas covering is mostly for shade and won't be waterproof, however. Some "misting" could occur during rain events but officials said the structure's pitched roof will deflect all but the heaviest rain.
Original plans for the airport included the covered parking area but it was cut to decrease construction costs. "This will allow us to cover that area which had to be value engineered out," said John Pilcher III, chairman of the airport board. "We will be able to put that back into effect and once again service our customers how they need to be serviced... I don't think they need to come in to this airport soaking wet during a rain storm."
USA Shade & Fabric Structures, Inc. won the contract for the project. The exact schedule is still being finalized but airport officials said they expect construction to take place sometime in the May-July timeframe.
According to airport management, a Florida Department of Transportation will cover 75% of the total cost of the project and the airport will pursue short term financing of the balance.