From new FBO to a solar farm, the future looks bright for LAL
Lakeland Linder Regional Airport is the busiest airport in the world — at least for the week of Sun ’n Fun. But there’s a lot of activity going on at the airport all year round.
The airport opened a new FBO building March 18 and, just a few days later, airport officials revealed that Direct Air, an airline based in Myrtle Beach, S.C., will begin scheduled service to LAL, with airline officials saying they believe the airport could become a hub for tourists visiting Central Florida.
“There will be a whole new way to come to SUN ’n FUN,” said Gene Conrad, airport director.
But GA pilots shouldn’t worry that they’ll be pushed out of LAL, he said. “I am a No. 1 supporter of GA,” he said. “All of these things can co-mingle and co-exist. SUN ’n FUN will not ever be interrupted.”
The airport received a $2 million grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to renovate the first floor of the former FBO, adding ticket counters, a baggage claim, and accommodations for the Transportation Security Administration.
It also got a $2.4 million FAA grant, plus another $1 million from FDOT, for improvements to the airport, including expanding the ramp and taxiway improvements designed to alleviate complex geometric intersections and improve the safety of taxiing aircraft at the airport.
“The taxiway coming out of the terminal area used to steer you into a convoluted spot,” Conrad said. “This has been identified as a ‘hot spot’ with a potential for runway incursions. These improvements will correct that.”
It also will provide for the straightening of another taxiway coming out of the T-hangar area. “If you are not paying attention, the current layout allows for an aircraft or vehicle to go right across the runway without realizing it,” he said, noting that second taxiway project is slated to begin after SUN ’n FUN.
The airport is also building a seven-acre pond. “In Florida, every time you build an impervious structure, you must build a pond,” he said, explaining everything north of runway 9-27 will drain into the 20-foot-deep pond. “We took out 210,000 cubic tons of dirt. We’re also building embankments to deter wildlife.”
And the big news announced during SUN ’n FUN is that the airport is preparing to break ground on a 40-acre solar farm on the far west side of the airport. The 5.5 megawatt solar farm is expected to generate more than 216 million kilowatt hours of solar energy over the next 25 years.
The large panels will be at the end of the runway, but pilots shouldn’t worry, Conrad said. “The panels don’t reflect light, but rather pulls in it, so they are not a hazard for aviation,” he explained.
The solar farm will be a big boost for the airport’s bottom line, giving it a $200,000 credit off its $270,000 annual utility bill, he added. “That is a huge deal for us,” he said. “It will help makes us more solvent and self-sustaining.”
But with all the activity going on at the airport, Conrad notes the most important development is the opening of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy.
“The stars are aligning for us,” he said. “There are tremendous opportunities for aviation at this facility, but the CFAA is the most exciting development. I can’t define what that will mean for the airport or the community, but we can dream and I think it’s going to be big.”
He added there’s been talk of adding glider operations to the airport so the students can get involved at a younger age.
“We need to keep the airport vibrant and continue to push,” he said. “We’ve got to get the youth engaged.”
For more information: LakelandAirport.com