This month, I’m pleased to bring you an update on a critically important process that is underway at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE).

Did you know that PIE began as Pinellas Army Airfield, a military flight-training base during World War II? In 1946, it was granted to Pinellas County to operate as a commercial airport.  It operates as an Enterprise department, generating its own revenues and, moreover, with no debt. PIE is ranked ninth largest among 20 commercial airports in Florida, with just a few governed by a Board of County Commissioners (BCC). As a County Commission, we are proud to oversee this valuable asset.

Job creation and economic development are of primary importance to your Board, and PIE is a big driver for our economy. Airports directly create above-average wage aviation jobs, as well as generate growth for our No. 1 industry, tourism.  Airports are also continually modernizing, stimulating construction job growth.

On Nov. 17, the BCC will review a new Airport Master Plan (AMP), developed over the last two years, to replace its 2004 AMP. This short-, mid- and long-range plan provides the blueprint for future capital projects and shapes the growth of the aviation industry in Pinellas. With more than 2.2 million passengers in 2019, one of the busiest general aviation operations on the west coast of Florida, an Army Reserve station, and the nation’s busiest US Coast Guard Air Station, the importance of a well-managed and maintained airport is vital.

The AMP serves several important purposes for airport management, airport users, and the local community. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) require airports to conduct periodic updates of their planning documents to remain eligible for future grants. The primary goal is to create a 20-year development program to maintain a safe, efficient, economical, and environmentally acceptable airport facility for the Tampa Bay community.  The AMP will provide the guidance to satisfy the aviation demand in a financially feasible and responsible manner, while at the same time addressing the aviation, environmental, and socioeconomic issues of the community.

Throughout the process, reviews were conducted to insure input is received from key stakeholders, including the BCC, Airport Noise Abatement Task Force, County staff, airport traffic control management, FAA, FDOT, airport tenants, and the public. The individual steps in the AMP process are built upon information and decisions made during previous steps. The AMP process began in the fall of 2017 and three public workshops were held and a dedicated website provided updates. PIE will be bringing the AMP before the BCC for approval through a Board resolution.

The AMP serves as a blueprint for the Airport Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The County has a 6-year CIP planning tool as part of the budgeting process. After the AMP is approved, each individual CIP project must be approved by the BCC in the annual budget.

With the annual budget process, changing conditions and grant opportunities allow the airport to plan and manage with flexibility when needed. With a 195 percent increase in passenger traffic over the past decade, PIE has adapted its strategies. Currently underway is the rehabilitation of its primary runway 18-36, a $24.1 million project.  PIE’s secondary runway 4-22 was extended and is temporarily serving as the main runway for a four-month period. The construction project was phased in a manner that would minimize the use of Runway 4-22 to reduce potential aircraft noise exposure to surrounding communities. Once this phase of construction is completed, all airline operations revert to Runway 18-36, permitting use of established noise abatement procedures.

With more than $1 billion runway-dependent economic impact generated by commercial airlines serving over 50 non-stop destinations, substantial general and corporate aviation, and critical U.S. Coast Guard operations, PIE looks to the future while striving to meet community demands.

I’m proud to have the chance to share this progress with you.