A Soaring Success
Inside Naples Municipal Airport
Naples Municipal Airport is a buzzing beehive of activity, boosting the economy and providing public services that improve everyone’s life. As it grows, the airport strives to stay compatible with the ever-increasing development that comes with Naples’ red-hot real estate market.
At the helm of the 732-acre operation is Naples Airport Authority Executive Director Chris Rozansky, who came on board nine months ago when predecessor Ted Soliday retired after 22 years on the job.
“My first day on the job was the day after Easter,” Rozansky says with a chuckle, recalling his quick introduction to the sudden bursts of activity the airport experiences throughout the year as the sky fills with private jets carrying part-time residents.
Rozansky came to the job well prepared after more than five years running the municipal airport in Venice, which, like Naples, is “situated very close to the Gulf, with residential encroachment right up to the edge of the airport property.”
That means a much closer interaction with the surrounding community, he says. “As much as my job was to be the airport manager, it was also to be an ambassador to ensure the airport is a good neighbor in the community. I really feel that’s important in our approach here.”
He’s keenly aware of the need to help not just the private business operators at the airport but all the local industries that depend in part on the steady flow of tourists and potential residents who fly in every day.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk says the airport also nourishes public-private and community partnerships.
“I believe the airport goes to great lengths to foster relationships that encompass all entities, both commercial and nonprofit,” Rambosk says. “This professionalizes airport operations, strengthens the local economy, creates safe and conscientious flight operations, and encourages the overall community. In short,” he says, “the airport is a terrific community partner.”
But despite its central role in the life of people in Collier County, the airport is still something of an unsung hero, says Donna Messer, chair of the Naples Airport Authority.
“People who don’t use the airport don’t necessarily know the extent of the airport’s effect on our area,” Messer says. “The airport has an economic impact of $283 million, besides the nonprofit and charitable work they do. Business people understand that very well.”
Naples Municipal Airport has more than 95,000 takeoffs and landings each year—beating much larger Southwest Florida International Airport by more than 10,000.
Those numbers are a telling indicator of how the airport’s operations mirror the business climate of Naples, Rozansky says.
“The activity here is really reflective of what’s going on in the broader economy,” says Rozansky. “So fuel sales and aircraft takeoffs and landings are usually a good indicator of what’s going on regionally.”
The numbers also speak to the growing allure of Naples for people wealthy enough to have their own private jets, says Matt Hagans, chief executive officer of Naples Jet Center, which both sells and services private jets at the airport.
Hagans, who employs about 40 people, says business is brisk as a result.
“We have six hangars now and we’re building hangars seven and eight over the next six months,” he says. “You see a lot more construction of hangars.”
That growth is driven, Hagans says, by the fact that the jets’ owners more and more are choosing to be here all the time—and they’re bringing their jets along.
When he opened Naples Jet Center in 2008, Hagans says, “That’s something I didn’t see. When we started, the hangar was for maintenance.” As the jet business grows, he says, word gets around that Naples is a good destination for high-end planes these days. When Hurricane Matthew was threatening the state’s east coast in early October, Hagans says he worked with the airport staff “to make sure we had homes for the airplanes that wanted to get out of the way of the hurricane.”
The airport serves the community in other ways as well, says Messer.
It’s frequently the host of charitable events such as the hugely popular BaconFest, and plays a critical role in others: for example, the airport’s hangars are jammed during January’s Naples Winter Wine Festival as private planes jet in for the high- end charity wine auction.
The airport is also a critical part of the community’s safety, Rambosk says.
In December, the Airport Authority, the City of Naples and Collier County conducted “Operation Rapid Response,” a full-scale public service exercise that takes place every three years to test and practice emergency response protocols. “It’s a valuable exercise that helps keep us all prepared and ready for the safety of our community,” says Rozansky.
“Primarily, Naples Municipal Airport provides us with a secure, central location in one of the most heavily populated areas of Collier County,” Rambosk says. “This allows us to operate and deploy specialty units to the community and other government agencies with greatly reduced response times.”
Rambosk says the Sheriff’s Office presence at the airport “helps us foster aviation partnerships with public agencies such as Collier County EMS and Collier Mosquito Control District, which also perform flight operations daily throughout the county. This location also allows for the coordination of assets during major incidents, enables us to keep a close eye on the majority of aviation operations occurring within the county and gives us the ability to rapidly respond to any suspicious activity.”
The sheriff ’s Special Operations Facility on the airfield “also provides a secure base of operations for visiting government officials and other dignitaries who travel to and from our community by air,” Rambosk says.
As the airport’s jet traffic recovers to prerecession levels, so does the task of making sure nearby neighborhoods aren’t hassled by noise pollution.
The airport’s Noise Compatibility Committee, comprised of community volunteers, works with Authority officials to resolve issues that pop up.
But that’s just the most visible part of the airport’s sustainability plan, which aims to keep the airport a good steward of the environment.
Rozansky noted that like most municipal aviation hubs, the airport is tightly hemmed in by residential and commercial development.
“You know, we’re nothing like RSW [Southwest Florida International Airport]. That’s developed east of I-75, far away from residential development,” Rozansky says. “We have a community responsibility to strive to be a corporate good neighbor.”
Right now, for example, the airport staff is working with the Federal Aviation Administration on how planes taking off can safely go “higher, faster, sooner” so they can spend less time flying low over neighborhoods, says Messer. Retired from a 30-year career as an American Airlines executive with experience in human resources, marketing and operations, she’s no newcomer to the aviation industry’s interactions with the community.
As air traffic increases, it’s important to strike the delicate balance between noise and economic vitality, Messer says. “What we try to do at the airport is minimize noise but maximize efficiency and that’s what the FAA wants to do.”
For that to happen, Messer says, it’s crucial for the Airport Authority to keep the FAA involved. “We know more about the noise sensitive areas than they do. A big part of our work with the FAA right now is collaborating on their NextGen/Metroplex project to improve airspace efficiencies.”
The FAA’s goal with Metroplex is to improve regional traffic movements and optimize procedures to incorporate the vast improvements to engine technology over the past decade.
“This is a top priority for the Authority throughout 2017,” Messer says.
One factor that hasn’t affected the noise issue is the return of regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights to the airport after a nine-year hiatus.
Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways started flying out of Naples a year ago but its flights haven’t caused any problems.
“We haven’t had one complaint” about the Elite flights, Rozansky says.
He says the Airport Authority stays in close contact with the area’s communities on noise and other issues, “and that’s not by chance.”
To better know the community, Rozansky says he puts a lot of effort into first-hand contact with the neighborhoods:
Since he arrived nine months ago, “We’ve gotten to know many neighborhood representatives,” Rozansky says. “We’ve given no less than a dozen presentations to civic groups, and numerous tours of the airport.”
So far he’s met with representatives from communities including Port Royal, Wyndemere, Brookside, Park Shore and Old Naples, Rozansky says.
“When it comes to noise, airspace and flight paths, we’re limited in how much we can do by federal law,” he says. “I like to think of runways as the interstate to the skies. We work with the FAA on runways and airspace similarly to how there is both local and federal agency involvement with I-75.”
Noise abatement efforts aren’t the only way the airport shows the community it’s environmentally responsible, Rozansky says, citing programs such as the Gordon River Greenway—a scenic nature trail that runs along the river through the heart of Naples.
Recently the Authority completed the West Quad Pond project, upgrading a section of the Greenway with a boardwalk, observation lookout, including a deck with a children’s play area and handicap-accessible parking.
The next phase, joining the Greenway’s two sections, will be built on airport property by the Gordon River Greenway organization.
In addition, the airport recently completed a project that uses cutting-edge technology to filter water runoff from the airport and from an additional area of more than 400 acres from the industrial park on the east side of Airport Road. Those improvements earned the Authority statewide recognition and are changing the way other airports manage water quality. GB
*This feature appears in a special advertising section of the January/February Gulfshore Business