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Airport growth mirrors expanding population

Published February 15, 2004

PASCO COUNTY - Some Pasco County airports are working to keep pace with aviation growth in the county this year.

Others are struggling to maintain their operations amid encroaching residential projects.

But to industry insiders, both developments signal aviation in Pasco is on the rise.

Waiting lists for airplane space is commonplace, construction of new hangars hit the hundreds in 2003 and local airports are committing more money, time and equipment in their operations for 2004.

"Aviation in Pasco is just growing," said Jim Werme, airport manager for Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. " . . . as fast as we can build, its filling up."

Last year the public airport, which is owned by the city of Zephyrhills, spent $1.1-million to build four new hangars - totaling 40 new airplane storage units. Even with the additions, there is a waiting list of 65 planes.

Slated for this year are projects to finish paving, increase lighting, add a $100,000 automated weather observation system and acquire about 50 acres of land surrounding the airport, Werme said.

The land will be bought from the city of Zephyrhills "and it clears up our boundaries," he said. "We're also buying some vehicles and a piece of equipment that will start jet aircraft."

But growth is not necessarily good for all of Pasco's airports.

At Tampa Bay Executive Airport on State Road 54 in Odessa, residential development surrounding the airport continues to outpace the facility's own growth. That trend shows little sign of changing, said Lew Friedland, president of Seven Eagles Inc., the private airport's owner and affiliate of the companies developing Trinity Communities.

"We've had a lot of growth here all around us," he said. But "the airport has not grown substantially in the last few years" - leading some to wonder how long such a use will be economically viable as land costs around it skyrocket.

Meanwhile, other airport owners are banking on an increase in their business thanks to Pasco's growing population.

At Tampa North Aero Park located in Wesley Chapel, airport owner Charles Brammer is investing $5-million to bring 100 airplane hangar units to Pasco County with construction to begin this year.

Brammer said the project will build 100 "condominium hangars," each equipped with individual electric service and electric bifold doors. Some hangars will be equipped with restrooms and showers. All 100 will be for sale.

In 1992 Brammer bought the 30-acre, privately owned, public-use airport at State Road 54 near Interstate 75. This year's expansion means final development of the airport's roughly 12 remaining acres to individual owners.

And with Pasco's growth rate, there will be business coming in, said Brammer pointing to nearby Saddlebrook Resort and developments such as the new 1,200-home community of Lexington Oaks.

"There's new residents coming in," he said.

Bordered by homes and located in a "pilot community," Pasco's other public-use, privately owned airport - Pilot Country - is looking to build its current client base via an expansion.

Currently the airport can house about 25 airplanes, and the neighboring community has a capacity of about 70 home lots.

Dewey Gallops, who bought the airport in 1996, said he plans to build another 50 enclosed T-hangar units at the airport and said home construction will continue on the area's 20 remaining lots.

"We're out in the country," Gallops said, but even he can see the county's building boom.

And the best view of Pasco's growth is about 10,000 feet up in the air, he said.

"It looks like a lot of farms and trees intermingled with a lot housing developments going up," he said. "It's all around (and) it's a good view. Progress is what they call it."

[Last modified February 15, 2004, 01:15:45]

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