With one project done, airport looks to future


A rendering of future improvements was on display during a ribbon cutting for terminal improvements at the Gainesville Regional Airport on Thursday.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 8:34 p.m.

The Gainesville Regional Airport marked the completion of terminal renovations that were called aesthetic and energy efficient improvements Tuesday afternoon, but bigger changes may be ahead.

During a windy ribbon cutting ceremony outside the terminal, the airport displayed architectural drawings that show a new concourse and expanded ticket area to alleviate crowding during busy times and accommodate additional carriers and flights they hope to lure.

CEO Allan Penksa said there are no immediate construction plans to expand the terminal. The first step will be to expand the commercial airline apron outside the concourse in 2014. Penksa said the airport needs the extra space for its current airlines and charter flights.

Silver Airways started offering flights out of Gainesville last April. The airport already renovated the ticket area to add a counter for the airline but would need more room if another carrier came to Gainesville. The drawings show an expansion to the east.

A larger apron will give the airport room to add a concourse to the west of the current concourse with two jetways that would accommodate larger regional jets and aircraft.

The airport is already seeing larger regional jet service as airlines phase out 50-seat aircraft.

"It's going to be a challenge for us because there will be a transition period where we have to create enough demand for those aircraft," Penksa said of the move to larger planes.

Laura Aguiar, manager of public relations and government affairs, will be traveling to a conference of airline representatives in San Antonio, Texas, armed with the results of a survey to show demand for a direct flight to New York City.

New York is the No. 2 final destination out of Gainesville, behind Miami. The survey received 1,600 responses.

Aguiar said she will also ask about service to Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, Silver Airways is ending its route between Gainesville and Atlanta, Penksa said during a board meeting after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Delta will continue a Gainesville-Atlanta route.

For leading the airport from "crisis mode" during the recession to the point of talking about expansion, Penksa was named the Federal Aviation Authority Southern Region Airport manager of the Year for 2012. His nomination by airport executive staff noted new tenants such as Silver Airways and Phalanx Defense Systems and a growing operating budget, said Ian Fletcher, chairman of the airport authority board, during the ceremony.

The airport also received a ceremonial check for $15,600 from Gainesville Regional Utilities based on energy savings for new energy efficient upgrades to the terminal building and outside lights.

The new $1.3 million renovations finished earlier this month include energy-efficient glass; vestibules in the main entryways to reduce loss of air conditioning or heating; new LED exterior lighting; a new irrigation system that replaced city water with well water; repaved disabled parking areas and ramps; and redone curbside drop-off, sidewalks and crosswalks.

In addition to a new concourse and ticket area expansion, the terminal expansion plans include expanding the security checkpoint area, curbside drop-off and parking lot, and a new baggage area, among other changes.

Penksa said the expansions could be built in phases as funding becomes available.

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