By: ANGEL McCURDY
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The city’s airport soon will see major changes as it tries to keep up with the growing community.
The first phase of a nearly $2 million improvement project will begin in September.
“I’d like to see the airport become the economic engine for this part of the Panhandle,” Airport Services Supervisor Kelly Schultz said. “We serve a lot of people north of us, at the beach and people from adjoining counties. With this construction I think we can really widen our customer base and become the primary airport for this area.”
Shultz said the initial work will include lengthening and widening the paved runway and adding 10 T-hangars. She said it is the first of three phases that are expected to be completed in the next four years.
The construction is being funded through grants from the Florida Department of Transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration and city funds.
“We have the joint participation agreement with the airport,” said DOT district spokesman Ian Satter. “We’re funding $968,239 for aviation site development, and the city has to match up to 20 percent of that. The reason DOT is involved is that our focus is transportation. We connect seaports, airports, airways and roadways.
“By increasing capacity, we can hopefully increase economic prosperity to the city,” Satter said.
The DeFuniak Springs Airport opened in the mid-1950s with one dirt runway. Over the years it added hangars, fencing and a larger runway.
The city of DeFuniak Springs took over the airport in 2010 and began planning to make it a vital part of the community.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t realize we’re here and that it’s a public airport,” Shultz said.
The airport has a 4,146-foot runway that is 60 feet wide. However, larger planes need a runway at least 5,000 feet long and 75 feet wide.
“This expansion could help us with economic growth in DeFuniak Springs, especially if we can bring in smaller jets and larger planes,” said DeFuniak Springs Mayor Harold Carpenter. “The first phase will be the runway construction, then we have lots of other construction going on.
“This has been a subject very dear to me for the last four years. I’m excited for what we’ll be able to do.”
Shultz said the airport ultimately will have 30 T-hangars, public access points and a greater community presence.
“Something that started as a dirt runway has turned into a gem in the rough,” she said. “We’ve really got something special here.”