AOPA urges caution as Fla. airport authority considers moving airport

November 11, 2009

March 24, 2004

Mr. Larry Dantzler
Chairman
Panama City Bay County Airport Authority
3173 Airport Blvd.
Panama City, FL 32405

Dear Chairman Dantzler:

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), represents the general aviation interests of over 400,000 members nationwide, more than 30,300 who reside in the State of Florida.

For the past two years, AOPA has been following various studies and the environmental study process regarding the proposed relocation of Panama City-Bay County International Airport (PFN). Because the decision to relocate clearly rests with the Authority and its commissioners, there are several issues related to this decision that we want to address.

There are a number of our members locally who believe a new airport is not necessary - especially since the current airport recently underwent major renovations. Local residents reflected a similar viewpoint in the March 9, 2004 straw poll vote. While the results of the vote, 54% against the new airport and 46% for relocation, is by no means a landslide or a mandate or even binding on the Authority, the results do indicate that a majority of those who voted are not supportive of the project. Based on our experiences across the aviation community, projects of this magnitude must have community support to succeed.

Because relocating the airport is a local decision, members of the local community, users of the airport (including general aviation tenants and airline companies) as well the city and county business community should have a voice in the process and their opinions heard. Based on concerns expressed to AOPA by our members, the local citizens, to date, have not been satisfied with the "public process" used to reach relocation conclusions. While this decision is a local one, it impacts the National Air Transportation System of over 5,400 public use airports in the US and must be consistent with national policy.

It is our understanding the Airport Authority intends to seek significant federal funding for this project under the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Having been involved with a number of similar issues nationally, our experience indicates that opinions of local voters will indeed weigh heavily on the FAA's decision to fund development projects relating to a relocated airport.

Let me be clear that the general aviation community is not seeking the new airport since current users are served well by the existing airport.

For the members of AOPA, adequate facilities are critical. This means that AOPA insists that should the relocation of the existing airport move forward, general aviation operators must be provided with facilities equal to or better than facilities at the current airport. These facilities must also be provided on fair and reasonable terms without increases in rates and charges for airport users.

We appreciate your taking our comments into consideration. Please contact me at (301) 695-2205 if we can provide any additional information.

Sincerely,

Bill Dunn
Vice President
Airports

Cc: Panama City-Bay County Airport Authority Commissioners
City of Panama City
Bay County Commissioners