Will it fly? Proposed runway extension at Ormond Beach Airport causes strife

Is the airport losing money? Is the city planning a future runway extension to the east? What about jets? These are the questions the community is asking.

Command Medical Product's 1978 Piper PA-31-350. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Command Medical Product's 1978 Piper PA-31-350. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
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Proximity to an airport and available land.

Those were two things Command Medical Products CEO David Slick Sr. was looking for in 1987 when he was canvassing Volusia County for a place to build his new facility. The city of Ormond Beach checked all the boxes. 

Command Medical Products was one of the first companies to occupy the Airport Business Park adjacent to the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport. The medical device manufacturing company started in Ormond with seven employees, and has since grown to employ about 190 people. 

If the airport wasn't here, neither would be Command Medical Products, said Slick. Housing and flying its 1978 Piper PA-31-350 aircraft out of the airport is critical to the company.

“From a business standpoint, it has added dramatically to our ability to get to customer sites, to get to supplier sites, and resolve any problems or make presentations or plan for future growth, and being able to do it in one day and come back the same day," Slick said.

In June, the City Commission unanimously approved a $45,000 work authorization to allow consultants to prepare a new supplemental environmental assessment for the proposed 600 feet extension of Runway 9/27, which runs east to west. This is a revision of the project, as the original proposal was to extend the runway 1,000 feet to the west, at a cost of $3.7 million. 

The reduction in scope also reduces the price by about $900,000, said Airport Manager Steven Lichliter at the Aviation Advisory Board meeting on Monday, Oct. 11. The SEA is still underway, and some nearby residents worried about the project's impact on their quality of life are taking that as a sign there's still time to halt the project.

Citizens Against Runway Extensions

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, several citizens rallied at the Granada Bridge to protest the runway extension project, with some belonging to grassroots group Citizens Against Runway Extensions. 

Mike Rogers, whose property on Pineland Trail abuts the airport, was among them. 

“The simple fact is you don’t extend a runway for any other reason other than you need to bring in, or you want to bring in, larger, bigger planes, such as these jet aircraft," Rogers said.

While debate over the project has ignited in the community in the last year, Rogers has been dealing with the proposed extension for much longer. His was one of the properties affected by the original 1,000 foot proposal. He was offered $29,500 by the city in 2020 for a 2.6 acre-easement of his property — which Rogers turned down — and with other property owners following suit, the city was unable to go through with the project. The easements were needed for a longer runway protection zone. 

A big issue with the project, Rogers said, is that many people are unaware of what's going on. Though legal notices were placed, he said the city hasn't made attempts to alert nearby property owners of the project. The public meetings held for the 2015 Airport Master Plan Update were attended by less than 40 people.

“A lot of them thought this was shot down 17 years ago, never to be done again," Rogers said. "They’ve already had it vetoed, so to speak, once, when there was a public mandate in 2004 against this. Everybody kind of assumed that it was a done deal — that they weren’t going to be doing this anymore. They didn’t realize they’d snuck it back through.”

In 2004, the city began considering extending Runway 17/35, which runs north to south, but the project was ultimately voted down in 2005. 

Is the airport losing money?

The airport's finances have also been a recent topic in the community.

The city's budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year detailed that the airport fund had an estimated beginning fund deficit of $621,309. The city expects to bring in over $2.5 million in revenue for the fund this year, but expenditures are still expected to override that by over $63,000, leaving an estimated $685,000 deficit at the end of the fiscal year.

City Finance Director Kelly McGuire said this is standard for most municipal airports. 

“Airports aren’t typically there to make dollars," she said. "They’re there to provide a service to the community and like most of the services we offer, we’re not here to make a profit. We’re here to just break even.”

The airport's day-to-day operations are funded through the rent of its hangars and the golf course property, which has been shuttered since 2020. The city is working to examine possible future uses for the property, and on Oct. 5, commissioned a $57,000 land use study for this purpose.

The deficit in the airport fund reflects the amount of dollars that have been borrowed from the general fund, primarily for the purpose of covering the city's share for Federal Aviation Administration or Florida Department of Transportation grant applications. Those dollars are then used for capital projects. In terms of airport operations, the fund is self-sufficient, McGuire said.

From 2016 to 2020, the city received $7.34 million in grants, the majority of which came from the FAA with a match by the city of 2.5%.

“Recognize though that we may expend a dollar to get $100,000 from FAA or FDOT so it’s a good leveraging of dollars, and eventually the Airport Fund will have to pay that back to the general fund," McGuire said.

Economic impact

The city's job is to operate and maintain the airport, said Lichliter in a recent interview with the Observer

“They lease the land to private enterprise, and then they use that land to provide aeronautical services and other business services out of the airport," he said. 

FDOT reports that the Ormond Beach airport employs 518 people, with a total payroll of $17.83 million. The direct economic impact of the airport is over $18 million, and indirect impacts total $11.9 million.

About 170 aircraft are based at the airport. Traffic in 2020 totaled 110,241 operations, though the average operations served by the airport since the master plan update was conducted in 2015 is 106,208.

Lichliter said, should the runway extension project be completed, the type of aircraft permitted won't change. There are no businesses waiting to bring in jets larger than those that are already here.

There are three jets stationed at the Ormond airport. However, because of the runway's length, they cannot take off with a full tank of fuel and maximum occupancy.

Rademacher's June 11 memo states that the extension "will actually help reduce operational limitations from the business class aircraft that currently use the airport and improve overall safety."

The memo also states that the initial environmental assessment for the runway extension project estimates a maximum of 622 small jet operations annually, or about 1.7 operations a day. An operation, the memo details, is a takeoff or landing. 

The extension to the east

Rogers feels like the memo to the commission is misleading. 

“I’m not even convinced that those jets will come in, but my point is, that’s what they have in their reports," he said. 

If the runway was unsafe as is, the FAA would have shut the airport down a long time ago, he added. The city is focusing on the 600-foot extension to the west for the time being because staff is aware that adding in the 400-foot extension to the east, as detailed in the 2015 master plan update, would stop the project.

In an email between the city's consultant Hoyle Tanner and Associates and the FAA, the consultant is advised that the city could not proceed with its SEA if the 400-foot extension to the east was planned to occur within the next five years. If that was the case, the SEA would need to be stopped and a new one would have to be done to include both the 600-foot extension to the west and the 400-foot extension to the east.

The FAA's email was in response to Hoyle Tanner and Associates stating it was the city's intent to eventually extend the runway 400 feet to the east. 

Lichliter said an extension to the east is not under consideration at this time. Should the city proceed in that direction, the extension would be included in the next airport master plan update in 2025.

Command Medical Product's 1978 Piper PA-31-350 is refueled after a test run. Photo by Jarleene Almenas
Command Medical Product's 1978 Piper PA-31-350 is refueled after a test run. Photo by Jarleene Almenas

Looking to the future

Command Medical Product's eight-seater plane can't fly to its customers in the northeast, but the company does use it to fly around the state. Should the runway be extended by 600 feet to the west, as the city is planning, Command Medical Products might acquire a jet in the future. 

“They are not noisy airplanes," Slick said. "In fact, the corporate airplanes leave first thing in the morning, one takeoff, and they’re back late in the afternoon, and land.”

Even if more corporate airplanes come to the airport after the extension, which Slick said is the hope, traffic would not increase to the numbers some people are saying it will. If the number of jets tripled, that would mean the airport would house nine jets. The existing jets run between once a month and up to twice a week. 

There are three companies located in Ormond Beach specifically for the airport, he added. All hire over 100 people. Command Medical Products alone has an annual payroll of $7 million.

“In the next five years, if you got one more Command Medical Products because of the proximity to the airport, it would be worth all of the things that we’re talking about right now," Slick said.

Since the city started looking into extending the runway, the trees that buffered Rogers' property from the airport have been clearcut, he said. Traffic remains as it has always been, but now he can hear some planes when he's outside.

But it's not the present traffic that concerns him. 

“Right now, I don’t have much of a noise issue or problem, and I never really have, but of course, that will all change when you come closer with a runway toward my property, plus you’re bringing in all the additional jet aircraft," Rogers said.



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