Consultant Predicts Bright Future for Lake Wales Airport
Last updated 4/16/2019 at 8:45pm
The Lake Wales Airport has a bright future and the potential to attract more tenants and corporate jets, according to an update presented by the city's longtime airport consultant.
Wilbur Mathurin, vice president of Hoyle, Tanner & Associates, told Lake Wales City Commissioners at their April 16 meeting that aviation is a huge economic driver in Florida, contributing $175 billion to the economy. Citing a March 2019 report by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), Mathurin said the Lake Wales Airport contributes $15 million to the local economy and is responsible for 145 jobs.
Recent renovations, better lighting, reconstructed taxiways and a runway extension will make Lake Wales Airport even more attractive to pilots, Mathurin said. City funds along with grants from FDOT and the Federal Aviation Administration have enabled the airport to make major renovations and improvements. New taxiways will make the airport safer by providing alternatives that don't require using runways to reach fuel and hangars, Mathurin said.
Portions of the runways have not been repaved during the 17 years he has been consulting for the airport, Mathurin said. The main runway extension will allow heavier aircraft and corporate jets like Gulfstreams to use the Lake Wales Airport, he said, contributing economic growth opportunities.
"Having the taxiways opens up areas for development since people can build hangars and the City can build hangars," Mathurin said, noting they are being done in phases and should be complete in about three months.
City Commissioner Curtis Gibson, liaison to the airport committee, requested the update so officials could better understand the future direction for the airport.
Mathurin said his Oveido consulting firm would begin work on an airport master plan in the fall and move forward with a wildlife hazard assessment, requested by the FAA. Wildlife present potential safety issues for aircraft, he said, and the Lake Wales Airport property has attracted sandhill cranes and other birds, wild boars, coyotes and turtles.
City Manager Ken Fields pointed out another change at the airport as the FAA has determined the campground at the airport is a non-aviation use that must be shut down. He said leases are not being renewed and all campground tenants should be gone by February 2020. That will open up property for other uses, Fields said.
Lake Wales airport is one of 129 public aviation airports in Florida. In the past much of the activity at the airport was related to the skydiving industry, but the city now employs an airport manager as fixed base operator who is working to increase aviation traffic and fuel sales. The City is also looking to build additional hangars in an effort to attract private pilots to relocate their planes to the Lake Wales Airport.