Zephyrhills Municipal Airport just keeps clearing projects to land.
This is leading it to become larger and more improved with each completion.
In early July, the airport finished a $5.9-million, 1,200-foot runway expansion that will allow the city to welcome larger planes, including private jets. By bringing the length of the main runaway to 6,200 feet, City of Zephyrhills Airport Manager Nathan Coleman says this expansion could lead to an industrial corridor boom around the airport, likening it to the same thing that happened to Lakeland’s airport and industrial corridor.
“The city and the planners really set their sights on trying to do something similar to what Lakeland did and, hopefully, that will bring in jobs, that that market can flourish here in Zephyrhills,” Coleman said. “If we can get in businesses of that type, then the hope is they can come here, thanks to the extension.”
The runway extension now allows for larger planes to take off and land, and this includes ones such as Gulfstreams, which are a very popular brand for corporate jets. Coleman says that is a clientele the airport hopes to gain, and it’s not just in the industrial corridor. The city is taking into account all attractions and destinations that would call for a longer runway, such as the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center.
“We hope tennis attracts jets, maybe if it’s a tennis player who has a private jet,” Coleman said. “We hope those (tennis) facilities bring in a player, where they can fly right in and out. That’s another example.”
These examples are set to come, as the runaway expansion project was slightly different than how most airport improvements are planned. Generally, something of this magnitude and price arise because of a need or demand, however, in this case, it’s “a little of putting the cart before the horse,” according to Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe.
“In a perfect world, it probably would have been a little different,” Poe added. “We built (the expansion), so it’s something we’ll promote and also create the reason for the jets to come to Zephyrhills. What’s the reason? Let’s figure out how to attract those types of travelers because we’ve got things like tennis, Saddlebrook (Resort) nearby — we just have to give them a reason for corporate business to come to Zephyrhills and Dade City.”
The airport, which the city has run since 1947, is not done improving. Since 2011 and in the eight years Coleman has been manager, the airport has pumped in $32 million into projects, improvements and additions. He adds there are still five ongoing projects, as well.
In addition, the state just gave the city $12 million in allocations as part of the 2022-2023 Florida state budget, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 2. Of that, $6.6 million is going to more airport additions.
Those funds will be used to design and construct a new Fixed Based Operator (FBO) Terminal Building, Taxiway F and two new box hangars. Future development of the airport and the adjacent Industrial Park is expected to attract new corporate and recreational aircraft operations, including increased jet traffic. When this happens, new jobs are expected from the increased capacity for aviation businesses, including pilot lessons, new hangar construction, mechanical businesses and corporate relocations, and from maintenance, repair and overhaul businesses.
This project is slated to start within the next month or so, plus there will need to finish up the $3.6-million project that will create a parking area to accommodate the new runway extension.
“We’re positioned to be an airport ready to take on the next big wave of progressive air nautical users,” Coleman said.
As of now, the airport, which sees about 45,000 to 50,000 operations yearly, mostly is general aviation and flight training. Several of these operations are tallied by SkyDive City, when it takes up divers on a daily basis.
Now, as Zephyrhills looks to the future and how it plans to keep building the largest municipality in Pasco County, it will continue to take its airport, and potential arrivals and departures, seriously.
“The real question we have to ask,” Coleman said, “is ‘Why are planes coming to the airport?’ And, look, it’s not because of runways or parking or terminals or anything at the airport, really. It’s about the destination, and now we have to make Zephyrhills a destination that warrants an airport of our size.”
Published August 03, 2022