Commuter service awaits federal approval to start serving Naples airport
By TRACY X. MIGUEL
Monday, September 6, 2010
NAPLES — Gulf Coast Airways is one step closer to offering commuter air service at Naples Municipal Airport.
The U.S. Department of Transportation granted commuter status on Aug. 20 to Gulf Coast Airways, which has operated charter service from the Naples airport.
About a week ago, Gulf Coast Airways submitted an application to the Federal Aviation Administration for final approval and is waiting an answer. If approved, Gulf Coast Airways would be the only scheduled commuter airline flying out of Naples.
“We are rebuilding the market,” said Joel Johnson, owner and president of Gulf Coast Airways. “The flying market is gradually improving.”
Ted Soliday, the airport’s executive director, said in an e-mail the airport is happy for Johnson and others at Gulf Coast Airlines who have been working hard to regain scheduled service.
“We continue to support their efforts completely,” Soliday said in an e-mail.
Soliday said regaining scheduled service is important to the Airport Authority as it continues to speak with other carriers who have shown interest. He declined to name them.
Currently, the Naples airport doesn’t have federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) stations active for screening passengers for these commuter flights.
Johnson said the airport isn’t required to establish a TSA counter at this time. He added that there are two forms of security _ the airport security and the Naples Police and Fire Department.
The commuter service would fly two, five-passenger Piper Aztec twin-engine aircraft out of Naples airport five times or more a week within Florida year-round. And in the future that could expand to anywhere in the U.S., Johnson said.
The airline plans to offer service first to Key West five times a week or more depending on demand, then to Miami and Orlando or Tampa, with services yet to be determined, Johnson said.
Air fare per person each way to and from Key West is expected to be about $135, Miami about $140 and the others to be determined.
Johnson said the earliest date he could announce service starting is at the end of October, but realistically it could be either December or January.
Since 2002, Gulf Coast Airways, a federally approved on-demand air charter company, has been flying charter service to Key West four times a week _ Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The commuter services would be more affordable than a charter service, Johnson said.
Once the public knows about the commuter services, Johnson said, he expects to get more calls.
Johnson, who has owned the company since 2002, said his long-term goal is to “ring the Gulf with flights.”
The airport has had commercial service off and on since 1950, but is currently without scheduled commercial service and has been since 2008.
Through the years, the Naples airport has had many airlines with the same or similar classification as Gulf Coast Airways.
__ Connect with Tracy X. Miguel at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tracy_x_miguel/
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