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Guest donaltopablo

Tampa airport expansion and hunt for intl carrier

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Guest donaltopablo

St. Pete-Clearwater courts new international carrier

Plans for runway expansion pave the way for additions

Ken Salgat

Staff Writer

CLEARWATER -- With the extension of its main runway in about two years, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport expects to attract additional international carriers. However, Noah Lagos, the airport's executive director, doesn't plan to wait that long in adding to the airport's roster.

The airport has had preliminary talks with an international carrier based in Britain about establishing connections to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International. Lagos said he could not name the carrier as negotiations are still progressing.

"We've had discussions with a number of carriers regarding transatlantic service," said Lagos. "Those talks are continuing, and we do have a carrier that does have an interest in starting service from the UK to St. Pete sometime this year even before the runway extension."

Lagos said the discussions have centered on the carrier providing two 767 flights per week.

"Whether that moves forward is yet to be seen," said Lagos. "There are variables as to whether they will start service now or wait until the extension, but we're talking."

Although a new carrier is still up in the air, the main runway extension is moving forward.

On May 11, the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners approved the airport's request to move forward with a $13-million design and construction of the extended runway.

The runway will be extended 1,200 feet -- 900 feet to the south and 300 feet to the north. In addition, a safety area will add another 1,000 feet on each end of the runway. A safety area provides additional runway for a plane that touches down too early or too late.

A number of homeowner associations in Safety Harbor, Feather Sound, Oldsmar and east Clearwater neighborhoods opposed the runway extension. That opposition appears dead.

Marea Dorian, a Clearwater resident and a member of the Del Oro Groves Homeowners Association, said the decision to move forward with the extension was disheartening.

"It seems like the decision was made no matter what residents had to say or what we thought," said Dorian. "We guess progress must move on, but a lot of people in the subdivision felt it wasn't even worth the fight anymore."

Dorian said the decision is causing a chain reaction with neighbors and with her.

We're not moving ahead with our home addition, and there are quite a few homes already up for sale," she said. "I know a lot of people are looking (to move)."

Dave Chilcote, chairman for the Del Oro Groves Homeowners Association, said the groups were paid nothing but lip service during the more than two years of debate since federal funding of the project first was approved.

"We have hundreds of people that have gone over the particulars regarding the airport issue," said Chilcote. "We've been virtually ignored. The only thing that we can do, really, is try to go at them (county commissioners) from a political standpoint and remove these people one by one when their terms are up."

Dorian said a great number of residents could be appeased by having the airport simply move its departure/approach route over Old Tampa Bay and away from the communities. Lagos, however, said that is easier said than done.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International competes directly with air traffic from Tampa International Airport and MacDill Air Force Base, said Lagos. "The FAA's (Federal Aviation Administration's) job in managing safety, and there is a lot of traffic in what really amounts to a small amount of airspace.

"We are moving forward aggressively to bring on board some very skilled consultants to help us analyze issues related to noise abatement, with the expectation of making recommendations to the FAA for changes in arrival departure procedures," said Lagos.

The program includes the implementation of a Global Positioning System approach that would shift flight paths over Safety Harbor, Oldsmar and eastern Clearwater to Old Tampa Bay.

"We expect to have these consultants on board in early fall," said Lagos.

The airport also is in the process of hiring an engineering/consulting firm to help plan a phased-in terminal remodeling, reconstruction program. Currently, the main terminal consists of 14 gates in 120,000 square feet.

"From an operating aspect, our terminal is obsolete," said Lagos. "We will upgrade our facility and try to take a guess at what our traffic will be five years from now."

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Does seem like a waste though. Is a transatlantic into St. Pete really neccassary? Especially with major internationals like Tampa, Orlando, MIA and Atlanta so close. I wonder if the money wouldn't be better spent improving those neighborhoods instead of dumping on them with a bigger airport.

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