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Airports in Zephyrhills, Odessa buckle up for long ride

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003

Pasco's small but active aviation industry endured some turbulence in 2002.

At Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and Tampa Bay Executive Airport in Odessa, flight schools and plane maintenance facilities saw stagnant sales. At other aviation businesses, insurance rates spiked and investor interest waned.

But both of Pasco's corporate airports are focusing on the long-term horizon.

Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, where 120 planes are based, reconstructed one of the two runways and added three taxiways. Four new hangars are under construction, which together will house about 40 airplanes. The waiting list for hangars is 80 planes long.

In July, Seacoast Airlines began offering round trips to St. Petersburg, Key West and Marathon. The company also started offering charter service for Tallahassee and West Palm Beach.

Airport manager Jim Werme said local companies such as Marathon Coach and Saddlebrook Resort are using the airport more.

The 170-acre industrial park next to the airport has four tenants. Fourteen businesses dot the 960-acre airport property, including two flight schools, two maintenance facilities and an engine shop, and Skydive City.

Zephyrhills officials hope economic gains will spin off from the airport into the city. They've already seen it to some extent with customers of Skydive City.

"People come in to the airport, rent a car and come in for lunch," said Steve Spina, Zephyrhills city manager. "In the winter, enormous amounts of people from Europe block out three or four weeks and spend a good portion of it here."

The Tampa office of Grubb & Ellis, a New York real estate company, has approached the city about marketing and leasing the facility. That had been the job of the small airport staff and local chamber of commerce.

Tampa Bay Executive Airport, which sits on 112 acres, started to feel the squeeze from Pasco's momentous residential growth.

The privately owned airport, which is just off State Road 54, is home to Bayflite helicopters and mosquito control planes, a paint shop, a flight school and a maintenance facility. About 100 airplanes are based there most days.

The expansion of State Road 54 and Trinity Boulevard in the next few years could pose a safety hazard to the airport, airport manager Anita Hoover has said.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization asked state transportation officials to study aviation needs and opportunities.

Hoover said she worries about pilots unfamiliar with the territory landing on the highway.

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