(Almost) Ready for Take Off!

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
July 15, 2018 4:00 p.m.

Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport’s almost completed new terminal building
Workers putting final touches on terminal’s “nose.”

The contractors are skinning the tail on the terminal and wiping its nose. Internally, the lighting fixtures are in, walls painted, floors epoxied, carpeting laid and bathrooms ready for business. The cockpit will be delivered by the end of this week, and installed by the end of July.

According to Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport Manager Nate Coyle about 95 percent of the interior work on the new airport terminal building has been completed. The final walk through has not yet been scheduled, but it looks like the city and the FBO will be able to move into the facility in early August, once city building officials, FAA and FDOT sign off on the project.

This was just some of the positive news reported during the July 12, 2018 meeting of the city’s Airport Advisory Commission (AAC). Other highlights: fuel flowage projections are up; Mercedes Benz is looking at holding a major company event at the new terminal.

Once structural work is completed on the tail section, decals will be added.

More grant money for the airport project

Coyle gave AAC members a heads-up on some imminent good news from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO): the expected second phase of grants in support of the new terminal’s construction would be higher than anticipated. Coyle’s announcement was followed on Friday by an official letter confirming that the city’s Phase 2 application for a Rural Infrastructure Fund Total Participation grant had been approved for $530,032.00, based on a thorough review of the application and the recommendation of the Infrastructure Fund Review Committee. According to the award letter signed by Julie A. Dennis, Director of the Division of Community Development for DEO, “The grant will be used to cover Phase 2 costs of Engineering and Design Service; Mobilization and Grading; Utilities; Stormwater System; and a public access road for the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport Project.”

According to City Manager Dale Martin, the city had originally only anticipated $470,000 in Phase 2. He credited the hard work of Airport Manager Nate Coyle, Grants Administrator Lorelei Jacobs and Passero Associates (the city’s airport consultant) in securing the additional $60,000. Martin wrote, “The additional funds will reduce the Airport’s anticipated portion of funding for the project.”

It should also be noted that the extra funding more than covered the recent concern over the cost of a $55,888 change order approved by the Fernandina Beach City Commission on a 4-1 vote (Commissioner Roy Smith dissenting). The cost of the change orders equaled 1.27 percent of the total contract.

Future priorities

At the invitation of the airport manager, Holesko addressed the AAC, indicating his willingness to answer any questions regarding the role of his firm at the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport or with the current project.

Airport Advisory Commission members present at July 12 meeting (l-r): Tom Piscitello, Don Edlin, Chair Chuck Colcord, Prudence Hostetter, David Austen
Andrew Holesko

AAC Member David Austen asked Holesko to identify the top 3 priorities for the Fernandina Beach Airport following the completion of the terminal. Holesko responded that the airport will need more hangars, and that it will need to focus on maintaining Runway 422, the airport’s primary runway. He identified as the third priority dealing with the success of the airport over the next few years. He said that the new building will be a draw for aviators and the public alike. With experience over time staff will have a better feel for determining rental fees, appropriate uses and maintenance requirements.

He reminded AAC members that he would be unavailable to meet with them once the city’s bid for an airport consultant is issued (probably in August) and through the bid consideration process. Holesko, who has worked for Passero Associates in Fernandina Beach since 1999, currently holds the position of Passero’s National Director for Aviation Services, overseeing work at 44 general aviation and small commercial airports through 6 regional offices in the Southeast, Northeast and Midwest United States.

Hangar rental

Chip Ross

Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross attended the AAC meeting and asked about the recent study conducted to determine appropriate hangar rental fees. AAC members concurred with the study recommendation that rental fees should be raised. Ross asked why, if the AAC concurred, the fees had not been raised as recommended. AAC Member Don Edlin said that in light of uncertainty over ad valorem fees that may be levied on hangar tenants, the AAC had adopted a policy of phasing in new fees over a 3-year period.

Coyle added that it was also FAA policy to consider the opinions of airport tenants in setting fees.

AAC Chair Chuck Colcord reminded Ross that the airport receives many volunteer services from airport tenants, also a consideration.

Ross indicated that since there is currently a waiting list for hangars, some might infer that the rental fees are too low. Consensus seemed to be that holding off on a fee increase at this time was a prudent course until more information could be obtained regarding the dispute over ad valorem assessments.

Terminal’s educational potential

AAC members who are also active with Friends of Fernandina Aviation and the Experimental Aircraft Association championed the use of public space in the new terminal building for dynamic and static displays that could promote interest in aviation careers among local students. Airport manager Coyle agreed to look into the possibility of adding equipment and displays to further these goals. The public observation platform and the building’s atrium were discussed as educational venues, as well as the original plan to add a small conference room/classroom in a separate Quonset style building nearby.

Terminal dedication this fall

Plans are underway for the formal, public dedication of the new terminal building set for October 13, 2018. The United States Navy has shown an interest in participating, possibly bringing in an airplane as well as the Navy Band. Private donors are also contributing to the costs of the dedication festivities. People or companies interested in opportunities to contribute should contact Airport Manager Nathan Coyle ([email protected] or 904-310-3435).

One of the final pieces to be installed will be a scale model of the Navy’s F4U Corsair, which served as the inspiration for the terminal design.  The Navy built and used the Fernandina Airport as a training base for F4U pilots during World War II. The large scale model, donated by FBO Bent Wing Flight Services, will be suspended from the ceiling of the building’s atrium. And even the plane’s propeller will spin!

For more on the history of the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport, click here.

Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

Share this story!