The city of Ocala has completed about 90 percent of its master plan for Ocala International Airport and part of the plan investigates the best way to phase in development of the airport’s west side.
Airport Director Matthew Grow said the city is not changing the scope of the airport. It will remain a general aviation airport, which means it will not offer commercial air service. But the city has invested $5 million in infrastructure — water, sewer, electric, telecommunications and roads — to lure companies to locate their businesses at the airport.
“With the push for logistical-type businesses in Central Florida — in Ocala — it only makes sense to use the airport in that capacity,” Grow said.
Toward that end, the city also has made improvements to the aviation aspects of the airport by lengthening the runway, widening the apron, installing new lighting and building a control tower. But, with the collapse of the economy, the number of operations — take-offs and landings — has declined reducing airport revenues.
“Basically, we have revised our capital improvement plan, updated the airport layout plan,” Grow said.
He would like to dedicate the west side of the airport to the larger aircraft such as the horse charter planes.
“We are going to be the best general aviation airport possible. We are going to be self-sufficient. We are going to be an economic driver for the community,” Grow said. “All those things are what we want to be now and in the future.”
That is what City Councilman Jay Musleh wants.
“The money is already spent,” Musleh said about the airport improvements. “For us to just turn our back one it — no, we can’t afford that luxury. We have to find a way to make that work now.”
He would like to see the airport marketed more.
“It’s an important cog,” Musleh said. “It’s not the sole important one. I think it’s important enough we invested the money. We need to ensure we get the return on our investment.”
That, he said, may take some time.
“Eventually, they are going to run out of buildings already built,” Musleh said about businesses looking for space. “Or the marketplace will dictate someone will take a step up and build a spec building.”
One of the major components of the master plan is a new terminal building to replace the current one that is small and outdated.
“The terminal is huge,” Grow said about the importance of building a new terminal.
He said when a business people fly in to do business, the terminal will be their first impression of Ocala.
“It’s going to be the front door to our community,” Grow said.
He estimates a new terminal will cost $4 million.
The city has been awarded a $2 million grant for the terminal from the Florida Department of Transportation. However, the city does not have the $2 million grant match. Grow said there may be some opportunities in 2018, when the city’s contract with the current fixed-base operator, Landmark Aviation, ends. The city may be able to partner with the new FBO to build a new terminal.
“We don’t want to build a Taj Mahal but we want to provide the pilot community with amenities that are common in the industry that we lack,” Grow said.
That includes crew rest areas, meeting rooms and an expanded restaurant.
Also in the plan for developing the west side of the airport is the need for a full-length taxiway and cargo apron.
Right now, the main runway, runway 18-36, which is the north/south runway, currently has the strength and length to accommodate Boeing 767 aircraft. However, the taxiway cannot.
The estimated cost for the taxiway, which would be almost 8,000 feet long by 75 feet wide, is $10 million. Grow said 90 percent of the cost would be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, 5 percent by the state and 5 percent by the city. What is needed to secure that funding is a Letter of Intent for development from a company needing that service.
“FAA is really on our side,” Grow said. “They will work with us to the best of their ability.”