Zephyrhills Municipal Airport Manager Michael Handrahan introduced himself and his vision for the airport to the local business community at the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast on Thursday.
"Airports will shape business location and urban development in this century as much as highways did in the 20th, railroads in the 19th and seaports did in the 18th centuries," Handrahan said, quoting aviation expert John Kasarda.
Handrahan has been on the job for just two months at the city-owned airport, but he is a veteran in airport administration. He has been active in airport management for 29 years, most recently in Miami-Dade County, where he worked at six airports in the Miami area. Handrahan, 60, has been involved with aviation in some way most of his life having begun flight lessons at age 14 and taking his first solo flight at 16.
Handrahan presented a variety of facts and figures that outlined the airport's role in the local economy. He explained that the airport is one of 2,952 general aviation airports in the United States. General aviation airports support medical flights, aerial firefighting, law enforcement, disaster relief and provide access to remote communities.
He cited an 18-month study completed last year where the Federal Aviation Administration designated the Zephyrhills airport as one of 467 airports with regional impact. Only 84 have national impact and the rest were classified as having local or basic impact.
Handrahan said the airport covers 813 acres and has about 195 aircraft based there with more than 13 businesses and 160 aircraft hangars. There are two 5,000-foot runways and two taxiways. The airport offers pilot useable self-serve fuel available 24 hours a day and has a staff of seven employees supporting operations and maintenance.
The airport also gives back to the community, Handrahan said.
"Your airport has a multiplier effect on jobs and income. The federal Department of Commerce says that every $1 spent at the local airport adds another $2.53 to you local economy."
Beyond that, he added, "Your airport is your local gateway to the world."
The future of the airport is in question and it has been the topic of discussion among those involved in economic development planning. Handrahan sees his job as implementing the goals that the city council has for the airport, but he said the city has to decide what those goals will be.
"Over the past few years, the city has not recognized the value of the airport," Handrahan said. "We have some basic infrastructure issues — nothing earth-shaking or major — they just haven't been dealt with over the years."
Airport infrastructure currently lends itself to being a corporate airport, Handrahan said. It could be improved for use for commercial airlines, but it would require a minimum investment of $3.5 million and it could not be accomplished right away. More runway, no less than 6,500 feet, would be required in addition to greater security, a terminal building and more staff, including law enforcement and firefighters. And the list goes on.
A $3.4 million runway rehab is underway and a $350,000 grant is available for new security fencing. More hangars will be built in the future, but the real flight path of the airport is yet to be determined. Handrahan said he is there to pilot the project.
"We're here to try to help the city take the airport in the direction it wants to go," he said.