Phil Fernandez | Naples Daily News May 31, 2021
“…what is going on at the northern portion of the Naples airport? They have been “digging and levelling” there for quite some time but there apparently is no public info at the site. At least I was unable to find any.”
So let’s get flying to your question, which is on the minds of other readers. That’ll lead to a chat about major developments on the property as we get into today’s unofficial start of summer reading.
First, I checked in at APF on your inquiry. No boarding pass needed.
“That clearing is being done for wildlife and water management purposes,” said Zac Burch, communications manager for the Naples Airport Authority.
So that got me a little more curious as to the thinking, especially because I’ve been aware of more rural Punta Gorda Airport and previous challenges there with critters getting in the path of manmade wings, and wondered if the same has been occurring locally.
Record pace for wildlife strikes
Wildlife strikes have been drawing greater interest from the FAA, partly stemming from the 2009 incident that forced pilot “Sully” Sullenberger to ditch his U.S. Airways plane in New York’s Hudson River. The agency says the issue costs the worldwide industry $1.3 billion a year, not to mention the injuries and loss of life.
In its studies, the FAA has confirmed 292 deaths so far from 1988 to 2019, and is finding that 97% of these crashes and events occur on the airstrip or during the takeoff and landing phases. It concedes that its data, especially older information, may be incomplete as there was less awareness of the threat and to report it.
“Yeah, any wildlife, including birds, in the areas near the runway, can be hazards to aircraft,” Burch said.
And of course, that could be hazardous to anything outside the gates, too, as aviation traffic surges over Collier County.
As you know, I love to do a little research and indeed, after diving into a federal database, found a rise in local instances.
There were three alone between April 17 and May 8 tied to Naples Airport, but fortunately no damage. In the pandemic year of 2020, four was the entire tally.
Partly illustrating the airport’s growth over time and the increasing potential chances, none were reported in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Since then, every year has featured wildlife strikes, mostly fowl but a coyote had an unfortunate rendezvous with a jet in 2017. The annual average for the four years from 2016 to 2019: 9.5.
It was in 2019 when Marco Island resident and lifelong pilot Bill Gaston Sr., 71, died after his Piper Twin Comanche encountered at least one vulture. He was lining up to land his plane when it suddenly veered off course and crashed five miles northeast of Naples Airport, near a home in the 4900 block of Hawthorn Woods Way of Golden Gate, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
This year’s six animal-plane collisions through May 8 puts the airport on pace for a record 17.
Southwest Florida International, with all its activity of larger commercial airliners that have more safety design features to try to better handle a situation, had 27 through that date. Punta Gorda Airport has had three while none are listed for the combination of the Marco Island, Immokalee and Everglades City facilities since at least 2019.
Jet activity rockets to new heights
Naples Airport is on pace for other records, too.
Following my column last year on its impact on growth, development, the economy and well, roaring skies, Tom Lauer and his Old Naples Association colleagues also discovered some more good public records data for their newsletter.
And growing up as a baseball fanatic, I love stats. Plus, they’re timely with the ongoing noise study that should wrap up by September 2022 for what used to be known as the Naples Airdrome, having become operational in 1943.
The jets perhaps more than the rest are among the bigger concerns for Old Naples residents and others, and partly it’s due to numbers like these: Jet-based aircraft at the Naples Airport has grown from 10 in 2010 to 67 in 2017.
After 27,496 jet operations in 2017, an airport consultant said in 2018 to expect 32,000 by 2023.
Missed it by thaaaaaaaaaat much. By 2019, it had already reached 33,756, which comes at a two-year growth rate of more than 20%. Based on that, it could mean more than 50,000 by 2023.
$8M Naples Airport terminal project begins today as traffic surges
Published inLocal Interest