The sun is starting to break through the clouds at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
Last week the airport was named the General Aviation Airport of the Year by the Florida Department of Transportation.
"Your good example has made a difference in Florida and is important to maintaining Florida's national leadership role in aviation," William J. Ashbaker, FDOT's state aviation manager, wrote in a letter announcing the award.
The award was presented on Wednesday in St. Augustine at the annual conference of the Florida Airport Managers Association.
"We've come a long way," said City Manager Steve Spina, referring to the additions and improvements to the airport over the past five years.
Spina pointed to the award as a sign that the airport is leaving its controversial past and sluggish financial performance in the dust. He said the airport has become a foundation upon which Zephyrhills can build its future.
"I think we're going to show that it's a viable economic tool," he said. "In order to grow, you need a diverse economy, and the airport is a way to make that happen."
Spina, who traveled to St. Augustine to accept the award on the city's behalf, said FDOT singled out the city-owned and operated airport for its growth and innovative use of state and federal grants.
In 1994, Spina said, there were 28 aircraft based at the airport. Now, he said, there are close to 90.
The airport also has improved its runways and fuel tanks and added hangars and an industrial park.
But the improvements and policy changes have been accompanied by criticism.
Last month, for example, the City Council voted to give the city exclusive fuel sales rights at the airport. The decision has drawn complaints of bullying from some airport tenants, including Kathleen Sullivan, owner of Aerocenter Inc.
Sullivan, whose husband, David, died earlier this year in a plane crash, wrote in an Aug. 5 letter that the timing of the city's was "extremely offensive and very distressing." She asked the city to rescind its decision.
But Spina said the vote won't affect Sullivan's ability to sell fuel because Aerocenter is not on city property.
"Anybody can buy fuel from her. She can sell it 24 hours a day if she wants," Spina said.
And more changes could be on the way. Monday night, the council voted to rescind its vote from two weeks ago giving the city exclusive fuel sales rights.
Representatives from the city and the Federal Aviation Administration are expected to sit down in the next few weeks to hammer out minimum standards _ a list of basic guidelines, essentially _ by which the airport will be run.
City leaders hinted Monday that after meeting with the FAA they could vote again to give the city exclusive fuel sales rights.