President visits Florida

August 9, 2004

President visits Florida
GA airports help with Frances relief efforts

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Student pilot Nate Osborn (left) and Rick Champion of Fort Pierce Jet Center walk through the hangar of the Pan Am International Flight Academy after Hurricane Frances blew through, destroying the roof and damaging most of the airplanes at the St. Lucie County Airport (FPR) (photo courtesy Greg Lovett/ The Palm Beach Post).
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Above: Hurricane Frances' winds damaged this Tri-Pacer at Palm Beach County (LNA) Airport. Below: Hurricane winds blew one Aero Commander into another at LNA. (Photos by Robert Johnston, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer, LNA.)
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Wednesday morning found what remains of Hurricane Frances dumping rain on the Mid-Atlantic region, while President Bush made a trip to Florida to view the damage.

The President's schedule put him into Palm Beach International Airport (PBI) sometime after noon Wednesday, with stops scheduled at Port St. Lucie (FPR) and Miami (MIA). There were three 60-nm-diameter (30-nm-radius) temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) - one centered on each of those stops - with 10-nm-radius general aviation no-fly zones inside each.

Meanwhile, Florida general aviation airports are serving as staging grounds for disaster relief.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) again has set up operations at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport (LAL), home of the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. President and Convention Chairman John Burton says that Sun 'n Fun has offered its full cooperation in support of these relief efforts.

Sun 'n Fun also has authorized the Salvation Army to use Sun 'n Fun's main kitchen facilities so they can again provide food and other services to Polk County residents adversely affected by Hurricane Frances. (The Sun 'n Fun facilities themselves received only minor damage from Frances.)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, LAL was a central staging point for disaster relief, providing space and facilities to support the large number of personnel and equipment. One day alone, eight USAF C-17 Globemasters flew into Lakeland carrying various supplies to support these combined efforts. Some 350 semi-truck/trailers hauled in supplies for distribution to areas of need.

On Florida's east coast, the National Guard is staging helicopter relief flights from the New Piper Aircraft's ramp at Vero Beach (VRB).

Piper reported damage to the roofs of some of its buildings from Frances. All new Piper aircraft were flown to Georgia prior to the storm and thus were not damaged. Employees were asked not to report to work for a week, but deliveries of aircraft and parts were set to continue in one to two weeks.

Most airports across central and southern Florida have reopened, although some control towers aren't yet operating, and some runways remain closed. Because electricity remains out in many areas, the obstruction lights on towers are also out.

Palm Beach International's (PBI) Airport Support Network volunteer, Mariano Garcia, reports that all FBOs on the field (Jet Aviation, Signature, and Galaxy) sustained various degrees of damage to their hangars, most of which have been condemned by the fire department pending additional safety inspections. Nevertheless, they are open for business.

The vortac is out of service until further notice, but the ILS approach for the major east-west runway is in use.

Airport Support Network volunteer Robert Wood at Sebring Regional Airport (SEF) reported, "The center of circulation of Hurricane Frances passed about eight miles north of KSEF. We had a full blast of northern, western, and southern winds over a 24-hour period.

"The airport sustained only minor, cosmetic damage. The new terminal has a bit of roof damage, though not significant. Other than that it appears that only a couple of older World War II non-used buildings lost some roofing." There was no reported damage to aircraft or hangars.

But Frances did damage Stuart's Witham Field (SUA). The eye of the storm passed directly over Stuart. The Stuart News reports that the hangar housing Martin County's helicopter ambulance sustained serious damage, and the hangar housing the county's mosquito control equipment collapsed. Also damaged were facilities owned by Stuart Jet Center, Galaxy Aviation, Vought Aircraft, and Precision Jet.

Some 20 nm to the north, St. Lucie County International Airport suffered "catastrophic" damage, the Palm Beach Post reports county officials as saying. Winds shredded the roof of the Pan Am International Flight Academy maintenance hangar and tossed about aircraft the school wasn't able to fly out of the way. Mirabella Aviation and Lanshe Aerospace also took hard hits, according to the newspaper.

Bob Johnston, Airport Support Network volunteer at Palm Beach County Airport (LNA), said, "LNA was virtually spared of structural damage. Even aircraft tied down outside were spared, even with 90 mph-plus winds from north to west."

"Kendall-Tamiami Executive (TMB) faired very well in Frances," said David Bodley, Airport Support Network volunteer for the Miami-area airport. "Remembering Andrew, it seems most of the local aircraft left the area, primarily to Key West and Marathon at the last minute when the storm appeared firmly on a more northern course."

Florida Today reports that Melbourne International Airport (MLB) reopened to emergency traffic Monday. The most severe damage at MLB was located on the north side of the property, where high winds damaged several general aviation hangars and ripped siding from the control tower.

The hurricane did more damage to the Kennedy Space Center than any storm in history, ripping an estimated 1,000 exterior panels from a building where spacecraft are assembled.

And now Floridians are keeping a wary eye on Hurricane Ivan, a Category 4 storm forecast to hit the Florida Keys by Monday.

Update: September 9, 2004