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St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport prepares for more general aviation aircraft during RNC

An employee of Signature Flight Support clears a private plane for takeoff Tuesday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

An employee of Signature Flight Support clears a private plane for takeoff Tuesday at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

The Republican National Convention will include a 10-mile no-fly zone around the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is about 11 miles away. That extra mile could mean extra money in the airport's coffers.

The no-fly zone will lead many of the general aviation pilots who might otherwise fly into Tampa International Airport to change their plans. St. Petersburg-Clearwater hopes to scoop up that business. It is getting ready to make room for the smaller corporate and noncommercial planes.

To pass through the restricted airspace, general aviation pilots will be required to go through a TSA screening process 24 hours in advance.

"Pilots aren't going to want to be bothered with that," said Thomas Jewsbury, the airport's deputy director. "We feel that during the RNC, they will prefer to operate out of here, where it's less restricted."

When the Super Bowl came to Tampa in 2009, a no-fly zone was set up around Raymond James Stadium for the day of the game. On that single day, more than 250 additional general aviation planes flew into the airport, Jewsbury said.

"We had to shut down our secondary runways just to accommodate them and create more parking," he said.

Because the RNC will last for four days, Jewsbury expects the airport to pick up even more business.

The Clearwater airport charges daily fees for general aviation aircraft that park on paved areas at the airport, such as ramps and runways. It costs $10 for single-engine crafts, $15 for twin-engine crafts and $25 for jet-engine crafts.

The airport also collects 6.5 cents per gallon of general aviation fuel sold on the property.

In February 2009 — the month of the Super Bowl — almost 100,000 more gallons of fuel were sold at the airport than in either February 2008 or February 2010.

Jewsbury said the airport is preparing a plan to accommodate the increased general aviation traffic during the convention. The airport is focused primarily on finding ways to best use the different runways and taxiways and determining parking for the extra aircraft.

He does not know yet how many additional aircraft will be coming to the airport, but said the airport has already started receiving inquiries about prices and space availability.

"There are certainly unknowns going into it," Jewsbury said.

And not to worry.

Even though the airport will be shifted into the no-fly zone on Aug. 26, the day of the RNC party at Tropicana Field, the airport is working with the TSA to make sure no flights — commercial or general aviation — are affected.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport prepares for more general aviation aircraft during RNC 05/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 8:30pm]
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