The Gulf Shores Airport Authority has taken the next step in bringing more commercial air service to the Gulf Coast.
They voted to fund the engineering phase of a commercial airline terminal. While it will be a couple years before we could see commercial carriers landing, airport officials feel good about where things stand.
The Airport Authority expects to have final approval on an air traffic control tower within a couple weeks from the FAA. The safety factor that comes with a control tower is a key component in drawing in a commercial carrier.
“It will make it safer for people that want to fly in here…feel a little more comfortable, knowing there’s some control,” said Airport Manager, Scott Fuller.
Already one of the busiest airports in the state, the goal is to service 10,000 air travelers annually. The first phase will be to add a two-gate terminal to the existing apron on the south side of the airfield, which would handle commuter-sized aircraft at first.
Fuller said he knows where the business will come from. Research shows the five key markets to serve are Washington, D. C., New York, Chicago, Houston and Dallas. Fuller said the need is here already and the goal is to alleviate some of the tourism traffic on Highway 59.
“Mostly, what we’re doing is going after Highway 59, going after Highway 59…get them out of the cars,” Fuller explained. “We get the complaints quite a bit from people that they’re having to drive here because we don’t have air service, so that’s who we’re going after.”
Private industry has also seen the growth and opportunity with air service in Gulf Shores. Charter Air and Intensive Air Care (IAC) is growing its business. It’s seen more demand for charters and is now offering air ambulance services. The business has two aircraft now but looks to add three more very soon.
“Some of the other airports along the Emerald Coast from here to Panama City…Destin is packed. This airport’s going to be just like Destin as far as traffic…the volume, the amount and the type of heavy, larger aircraft that are coming in. I can see that being here in another five or eight years,” said Chief Pilot and Operations Manager for IAC and Charter Air.
The cost of the new terminal facility will be around $5 million dollars. It will be funded through the Gulf Shores Airport Authority with possible help from the FAA and interested airlines. As for how much it will ultimately cost you to fly in and out of Gulf Shores, airport officials say it’s too early to know.