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Airport proposes extension

Extending a runway into Tampa Bay, building a new terminal and improving hangars are part of a plan to upgrade Albert Whitted.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- An updated plan for Albert Whitted Airport is suggesting a 908-foot runway extension into Tampa Bay, but airport managers say the increase isn't meant to accommodate bigger airplanes.

"We're looking at really trying to provide a 3,700-foot runway to accommodate what's already here, not necessarily to accommodate new or larger aircraft," said airport director M.O. Burgess.

The master plan, which could be implemented in phases during the next 20 years, also includes a new terminal, a new control tower, improved hangars and better taxiing areas and navigation aids.

An actual extension of the northeast-southwest runway wouldn't come until the plan's third phase, sometime between 2012 and 2020.

Coming sooner, perhaps within five or six years, would be runway enlargements to provide safety buffers, Burgess said. The safety areas would give pilots an extra margin to avoid going into Tampa Bay if they overshoot the runway. Runway adjustments also would allow planes to fly at higher altitude in their patterns over the University of South Florida campus.

Total estimated cost for improvements during 20 years comes to $34.976-million from city, state and federal sources. Specific funding plans have yet to be explored.

Although a runway extension may be years in the future, neighborhoods leader Jim Biggerstaff is opposing it now.

"We've already filled up a lot of the bay around here. I'm opposed to going out into that bay," said Biggerstaff, president of the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

The council board meets tonight and Biggerstaff plans to bring up the extension. The board voted to oppose it last year, but Biggerstaff said he wanted to give newly elected neighborhood association presidents a chance to weigh in.

The Orlando-based LPA Group prepared the master plan for the airport's technical advisory committee, which began meeting last year.

A public informational meeting will be next month, Burgess said.

"Depending on the feedback from it, we'll try to put the document into final form, then present it to the mayor and the (City) Council," Burgess said.

Newly elected council members John Bryan and James Bennett attended last week's meeting. Both indicated they are receptive to airport plans.

"All these people are trying to do is improve (the airport) . . . to make it safer and quieter and upgrade it for the planes that are landing now. It's not like they're trying to reinvent it," Bennett said.

Said Bryan: "If we're going to have the airport, it needs to be an economic driver. It needs to be more than just a private pilot's place to park his airplane."

Bryan said the airport should be part of a "harbor initiative" that includes looking at the relationships among the airport, the port, USF and the state marine science facilities.

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