They fly overhead Destin’s beaches all the time, small private airplanes and company jets, prop planes and Cessna’s.
For the most part they are just part of the scenery Destin residents have gotten used to due to the close proximity of Eglin Air Force Base and the Destin Executive Airport (DTS) right in the heart of the city. But when news of an aircraft crashing into the Gulf of Mexico hit the stands last week, the Destin Log decided to find out exactly what it takes to fly an aircraft in and out of Destin.
Larry Anderson, the chief flight instructor at DTS, is a local expert on the flight patterns in Destin. With 43 years of flying experience, and 15 of those years instructing in Destin, Anderson is very familiar with the interworking factors surrounding the small airport.
“I got my license here at Destin back when there was just a little shack at the end of the airstrip,” he said. “Now I can fly 10 different kinds of aircraft.”
When asked what the greatest challenge pilot’s face flying in to or out of DTS, Anderson said it’s the fact that the air is government operated.
“I think the biggest challenge about flying into Destin is dealing with Eglin,” he said.
He then explained that because the military owns the air above Destin, every flight coming or going must coordinate and gain permission from Eglin before entering the airspace. This can be a tedious process as Eglin does not have a tower at DTS, and must be radio signaled by each pilot before each takeoff or landing.
According to the annual accounts log, last year saw roughly 6,800 flight operations come either in to or out of DTS. Anderson said that the heavy flight traffic also adds to the stress of flying into Destin.
“Another thing that makes it challenging to fly into Destin is we have a mix of airplanes – large and small – so on a holiday it’s very busy,” he said. “Other than that this is a safe and easy airport.”
Although aircraft can be seen flying into Destin from the north and the south, there is only one runway at DTS. Anderson said that planes land from one side or the other depending on the direction of the wind.
“You want to land with the wind in your face so you pick the runway based on the wind,” he said. “It’s one piece of concrete, but we call the runways according to your orientation and which way you want to land.”
The 5,000-foot runway has a northern orientation of 1-4 and a southern orientation of 3-2. The call numbers are used by the pilot’s before landing to ensure an open strip and a correct compass reading.
“The number comes from the nearest 10 degrees on the heading,” Anderson explained. “Looking at the compass for the northern approach, the orientation of the compass would be 140 degrees so it’s called 1-4.”
Anderson said the northern approach is the most common.
“1-4 is used more often probably because the wind comes in from the south and most people like it better,” he said.
There may only be one runway at DTS, but there are two terminals – Destin Jet North and Destin Jet South – now run by the same Fixed Base Operator (FBO).
“Destin Jet all came under one roof roughly a year and a half ago,” said Interim Airport Director Tracey Stage. “An FBO is much like a full service gas station on the freeway. They are responsible to keep up with county standards such as they must provide fueling, aircraft maintenance, pilot flight-planning, flight instruction, flight school, manage parking, and offer hangar spaces. They are nice facilities, like small general aviation terminals.”
The Destin Executive Airport, established in the late 1950’s, was once known as Coleman Kelly Field. But in 1964, Coleman and his wife Mattie Kelly granted the property to the Okaloosa County Airport and Industrial Authority for future growth and operation.
Today, the airport features a brand new runway finished in 2013 and a Destin control tower that began construction last year. When completed, the new air traffic control tower will eliminate the pilot’s need to make radio calls to Eglin.
“It will be eyes from the tower on the field and on the traffic pattern,” Stage said. “Eglin cannot see our airport, they don’t have eyes on the field and they don’t know what aircraft is on the taxiway or runway, all they know is what comes on the frequencies.”
Once finished, the Destin tower will communicate with the Eglin tower taking that pressure off the pilot.
“It will definitely be better from an operational and safety standpoint and it will definitely increase our control of the airfield,” said Stage.