Proponents say it could be the answer to hangar space shortages at Albert Whitted Airport and other airfields.
By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
Published July 22, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Steve Lange watched last year's hurricanes crumple airport hangars like tinfoil and knew there had to be a better way to store airplanes.
But Lange, an architect and member of the Albert Whitted Airport task force, also knew airports struggle with space constraints. So he started thinking vertically.
The result: a plan for a $16-million hurricane-proof, multistory parking garage for airplanes, complete with automated elevators and robotic transporters.
Lange and other St. Petersburg aviation enthusiasts who have embraced the idea hope Albert Whitted will be the first place to see their vision fulfilled.
"This is our dream," said Eric Albert Whitted, a nephew of the airport's namesake and president of Av-Stak Systems Inc. He, Lange and others formed the company to promote the new structure.
While the concept is still in the preliminary stages, the group presented it to the City Council Thursday afternoon. The structure would be 60 feet high, 450 feet long and 228 feet wide and could hold 336 planes.
The building would be on Eighth Avenue S, next to the U.S. Coast Guard Station and adjacent to the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Planes would be towed to the structure's entrance, where they would be placed on free-moving transporters, platforms on wheels controlled by computers.
An elevator would whisk the plane to the proper floor, and the transporter would maneuver it into a designated location.
Lange said the storage building can hold 10 times more airplanes per acre than any other method used today.
He said he was inspired by the lack of space available at Albert Whitted.
"It became immediately apparent that we were built out," Lange said. "And the hangars, which are an inefficient use of land, were taking up most of the property."
He presented his idea to the Albert Whitted task force but there wasn't much enthusiasm. Eric Albert Whitted, however, was intrigued, and approached Lange. Together, they created Av-Stak.
The group has completed a feasibility study and made a presentation to the Florida Department of Transportation. They also plan to meet with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Lange said he thinks it's the only proposal of its kind in the country and they have applied for a patent.
Council members were intrigued but had some serious questions, particularly about the $16-million cost.
"I'm looking at these numbers," said council member Jay Lasita. "And they're looking pretty big."
Lange said he hopes to receive funds from both FDOT and the FAA, as well as private sources.
Members of the aviation community expressed reservations, too. Many local pilots enjoy having space to tinker with their airplanes, said Ed Montanari, chairman of the Albert Whitted task force. This storage facility would make that more difficult.
"Is this for everybody who has an airplane out there? No," Montanari said. "It's similar to having a condo, where you don't have the flexibility that people who own a house might have."
Still, with a list of more than 70 people waiting for hangar space at Albert Whitted, Montanari said the concept was worth discussing.
"There just isn't any room to expand," he said. "So this concept is a pretty innovative way to solve some problems."