Gainesville Regional Airport officials discuss slated expansion

Gainesville Regional Airport officials talked expansion plans at a Wednesday meeting, forecasting changes such as an extended runway, a taller control tower and a revamped passenger terminal.

Airport authority chairman Brian Scarborough said that the expansion, enabled by changes to the FAA-required Master Plan, are due to growth in travel volume.

Indeed, the number of passengers coming through Gainesville necessitates the plans for expansion, said airport CEO Allan Penksa.

“We keep getting bigger year after year,” he said. “The market here is responding very well.”

The first phase of the Master Plan updates are in the beginning stages of approval by the Alachua County Commission

Penksa said customers can expect to see a bigger parking lot as one of the first results.

“We now overflow it once or twice a month,” he said. “We’re not parking people over here on the grass. That’s a good sign. That’s a very good sign.”

Passengers could also get an improved terminal experience. Penksa said plans include a departure lounge, a mezzanine-level concourse with passenger bridges and an additional TSA screening lane.

An extended runway will also be in the works. He said it would help airplanes “that might not have the latest and greatest engines” to still get out easily with a full load.

However, an expanded runway could create potential code enforcement conflicts – a dilemma Penksa said airport officials are prepared to work through.

“When you change the runway configuration….that means the airspace you have to protect and keep clear gets bigger,” he said. “If somebody builds something or a tree grows somewhere in that space, we need to have infrastructure in place for code enforcement to go out there.”

Another plan is to build a new airport rescue and fire fighting station in a better location. Penska said a station to replace the current 1970s-era station would be positioned so trucks could reach the midpoint of the commercial runway in three and a half minutes or less.

Additional improvements coming down the pipe include more corporate business hangars and possible space for light manufacturing operations.

Scarborough characterized the end goal of the airport’s plans as such: “We want to grow in two ways: air service locally and growing jobs, especially on the east side,” he said. “This is a win-win.”

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