ZEPHYRHILLS — The sky is the limit as city officials move forward with long anticipated improvements at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
Population estimates by the University of Florida in 2019 gave Zephyrhills, with 16,670 residents, the designation as the largest in Pasco County.
With new residential communities and commercial options popping up all over east Pasco, those numbers are expected to grow and become official when the 2020 Census numbers are released. Zephyrhills is moving forward with its airport redevelopment plans to be ready for the economic growth which city manager Billy Poe said he hopes will follow.
Last month, the City Council approved a $5.47 million project to extend Runway 1-19 to 6,200 feet from its current 4,694 feet. The work will include an extension of Taxiway B as well as an accessory road. Funded primarily from a legislative allocation awarded several years ago, the improvements will accommodate larger aircraft which officials hope will spur industrial development.
“Extending the runway is an important step,” said airport manager Nathan Coleman, who has worked at the facility for the last decade. “These projects are occurring so that we can keep up with the pace of continued growth that Zephyrhills is experiencing.”
Such expansion could mean the airport could comfortably handle larger aircraft than the typical six- to 14-passenger planes there now. While Zephyrhills won’t ever be a commercial airport like a Tampa International Airport, Coleman said the goal is to make Zephyrhills “the best general aviation airport around.”
The runway extension project is expected to be done by November, but it is not the end of redevelopment plans.
Established in the 1940s, the airport occupies nearly 900 acres. Currently, the airport sees 50,000 operations per year, which are defined as airplane take offs, landings and other movement of aircraft.
Other airport expansion plans in the near future include building corporate-style jet hangars for overnight jet parking and upgrading the fuel farm, which currently has two 25-year-old, 20,000-gallon tanks — one for jet fuel and the other for avgas. The contract for the fuel farm upgrade will likely be awarded in May, officials said.
Other planned improvements include building an infrastructure road which will connect with Alston Avenue and a rehabilitation project for Taxiway A, where large portions of its pavement are 28 years old, near the end of its useful life. Airfield marking, lighting and signage are included in the project which is expected to cost $3.2 million. Now under design, the construction will likely begin before the end of the year.
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Funding for that project will come from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Florida Department of Transportation and a small portion from the city. “We could not do what we are doing without the help of the DOT and the FAA,” Poe said. “It’s huge for us to receive these grant dollars.”
Other future improvements include construction of an additional parking area for itinerant aircraft, a new fixed base operator terminal and new parallel taxiways.
Poe said the city hopes to develop Chancey Road as an industrial corridor with an eventual connection with State Road 56. The Zephyrhills Airport Industrial Park, just north of the airport at County Road 54 and County Road 535, is also ready for future growth and was also selected as a Duke Energy readiness site several years ago. At the time of its selection, the 442-acre parcel was recommended for development of aerospace, light industrial/assembly and plastics companies.
The recent opening of the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center, which is bringing attention and visitors into the Zephyrhills community, will also likely bring more business to the airport in the years ahead, officials said.
Coleman said he hopes to be able to move forward soon on a master planning process for the airport. That would involve looking at the entire airport operation and would bring community input into the process of developing future airport priorities.