Punta Gorda Airport Isn’t Only About Airlines
August 26, 2016
  • Share
  • Maybe you’ve flown Allegiant Air to one of the 30 destinations it serves from Punta Gorda Airport.

    Or you’re looking forward to Oct. 30, when Frontier Airlines launches service between Punta Gorda and Chicago O’Hare, Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey.

    But did you know that before commercial aviation really took off in Punta Gorda, a diverse mix of tenants kept the airport aloft financially?

    Many of them are still there, making a difference at the airport some 20 miles north of downtown Fort Myers.

    “One thing people don’t understand is that we’re really just a big landlord,” said James Parrish, assistant executive director for Charlotte County Airport Authority.

    Jeremy Criley, an employee of Wahoo Fishing ProductsBuy Photo
    Jeremy Criley, an employee of Wahoo Fishing Products sports boxes of fishing lures at the Punta Gorda Airport location.  (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press)
    The airport took shape in the early 1940s, when it was a World War II training field for combat pilots. Today, it has more than 1,800 acres and three runways: The longest is 7,195 feet. One of the airport’s big pluses is that it’s less than 2 miles from Interstate 75 Exit 161.

    More than 30 companies with on-airport operations are on the tenant roster, which grows to more than 300 if you include individual renters of T-hangars for the general aviation planes. The diversity is impressive, ranging from aviation electronics companies, to a fishing lure manufacturer and a car racetrack.

    “You need to have many revenue streams. An airport couldn’t survive alone on scheduled airline service,” said Daniel Friedenzohn, associate professor for aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

    A commercial service airport that also has a strong general aviation or corporate aviation component benefits from the diverse revenue streams; and the community, from the additional jobs, Friedenzohn said.

    A reporter and photojournalist for The News-Press recently dropped in at a few of Punta Gorda Airport’s business tenants.  Here are three:

    Air Trek Inc.

    The 38-year-old company employs more than 50 people, and has two core businesses: Air ambulance services and executive or private air charters.

    “On the air ambulance side, we are a fully staffed, flying intensive care unit,” said Dana Carr, who owns the company with his brother, Wayne.

    The employee roster not only includes aircraft mechanics and pilots, but also nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and a board-certified ER physician, who goes out as needed on the air ambulance flights.

    Ted Fleming, a mechanic for Air Trek in Punta GordaBuy Photo
    Ted Fleming, a mechanic for Air Trek in Punta Gorda works on a radome that attaches to the front of an airplane. Air Trek has been housed at the Punta Gorda airport for decades.  (Photo: Andrew West/The News-Press)
    Last year, Air Trek transported about 380 patients in many corners of the world.

    Just halfway into last week, it had flown two patients to Ohio, one to Mexico and one from out of the Caribbean islands and back to the northeastern United States.

    Dana Carr likened the executive or luxury charter trips to being in “a super limousine.” They are fully catered, down to the clients’ preferred beverages, with ground transportation and other concierge-type services.

    Travel on the company’s eight-seat Cessna Citation  VII not only is plush; it’s speedy.

    “I can leave any airport in Southwest Florida and be in New York within two-and-a-half hours,” Carr said, adding that the flight would cost the travel party about $18,000, one-way.

    A smaller, four-passenger Cessna could do the trip in about three hours and 20 minutes, for a price tag of about $15,000.

    Many people charter a jet more for the comfort of their pets than for themselves, Carr said. They don’t want to put their animals in a hot airline cargo compartment.

    Carr described his prime luxury charter customers as “people who own a million-dollar-and-a-half home – as their second home.”

    APG Avionics

    Avionics are the electrical devices in aircraft, such as navigation equipment and wi-fi systems.

    APG sells and installs avionics, and is a licensed maintenance-repair center for Cirrus-brand aircraft.

    The job could involve anything from a petite, propeller-driven biplane to a privately owned, mid-sized or larger jet, said Jennifer Smith, marketing director.

    The company has three locations in Europe, but makes its U.S. home base at Punta Gorda Airport, where it employs more than 30 people.

    Rival Sarasota Avionics International is another local airport tenant.

    New commercial air service locally doesn’t affect APG much: Airlines have their own maintenance department.

    Location is important, though, Smith said, “because companies that sell avionics try to hook up with a company that has a repair station on an airfield.”

    Smith is excited about a new airport tenant soon to arrive: Western Michigan University aviation studies.

    “They typically use Cirrus aircraft for training and students will be able to intern here.”

    New World Trade

    This company manufactures freshwater and saltwater lures in two factories – in Port au Prince, Haiti and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

    The mix includes the company’s own Wahoo! Fishing Excitement brand and private label lures it produces for such merchants as Cabellas, Academy and Bass Pro Shops.

    Each of the Caribbean factories employ about 250. Roughly eight people work in the Punta Gorda Airport warehouse, where raw materials for lures are consolidated and finished goods are shipped out.

    Before moving here in 2004, the company was based in Louisiana.

    “We ship through the Port of Miami, and the freight charges were killing us,” said owner Ric Welle.

    Welle wanted to be closer to Miami, but not in Miami. Punta Gorda Airport, so close to an Interstate 75 interchange, fit the bill.

    He doesn’t use freight, “unless it’s a rush-rush job.”

    Connect with this reporter @Alvascribe (Twitter) and LauraPatrickRuane (Facebook).

    By the numbers

    Punta Gorda Airport estimated economic impact

    $71.5 million: Direct

    $55 million: Indirect

    1,971: Employment

    $59 million: Payroll

    Direct impacts include dollars from tenant leases and airport construction projects.

    Indirect impacts include spending from visitors who arrive via general aviation or by a commercial airline.

    SOURCE: Florida Department of Transportation