Bay County's Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport experiences record growth | Guestview

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During one of the most uncertain travel years, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) experienced record-breaking traveler numbers in 2021.

The uptick in travel during the calendar year put the airport on track to be ahead of pre-pandemic passenger activity levels. By November 2019, ECP had welcomed a total of 1.2 million passengers. This record was surpassed in November 2021, reporting more than 1.5 million passengers — a 26% increase. Once December passenger numbers are confirmed, we anticipate exceeding a total of 1.6 million passengers.

With a significant spike in tourism, Northwest Florida has been discovered. ECP landed the No. 4 spot on Simple Flying’s 2021 list of airports in the U.S. that have grown the most — with a capacity increase of 58.2% over the summer of 2019.

As Northwest Florida continues to grow increasingly popular as a travel destination, the airport has been challenged to expand capabilities throughout every area of operations. More travelers coming through the terminal means more demand. We continue to seek opportunities for new routes and enhanced service among our four airline partners — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

Growing passenger traffic is a testament to a growing region. Leaders at the Bay Economic Development Alliance (Bay EDA) have been extremely successful in their efforts to attract new business to the area, creating more quality jobs for individuals. Recent announcements indicate no sign of slowing down as companies across the globe continue to eye Northwest Florida, seeing the value in proximity to the region’s many resources, including ECP. New projects include a 251,000-square-foot FedEx Ground facility being built in Panama City and Arkansas-based manufacturer Central Moloney Inc. relocating to the Venture Crossings business center at the airport.

In late 2021, the ECP Board of Directors announced its completion of the facility’s Master Plan (MPU). The 20-year roadmap serves as a guidebook to use as the airport grows and strategically prepares for the future. These plans are intended to maximize the existing structure of our facilities before transitioning into new construction and are executed as we reach passenger activity thresholds that warrant the need to do so. With input from the Board of Directors, our regional partners and the public, the plan strategically tackles aviation development, commercial property development, and terminal and ground transportation development concepts.

More recently, the MPU has led us to facilitate the process of constructing holding rooms, conditional concession space, and additional restrooms. Our plans indicate the opportunity to further expand the terminal and enhance parking options. Beyond facility enhancements, we continue to work closely with the Florida Department of Transportation on its improvements to State 388 and the construction of the new roundabout at the entrance to the airport.

A $5.8 million 7,000-square-foot terminal expansion was completed in 2020 adding two gates and about 250 more seats, giving additional room for growth. As a modular building, this allows the airport the flexibility to move the structure in the future, if necessary.

Passengers now have the convenience of a new hotel near the airport. In 2021, the St. Joe Company opened the Hilton Garden Inn, boasting 143 guest rooms as well as a meeting space, a pool, and a fitness center. The hotel was the first of many major businesses claiming a piece of the immediate area around ECP. Located along State 79 near its intersection with State 388, construction on the initial phase of St. Joe Company's Latitude Margaritaville Watersound community is well underway and anticipated to include about 3,500 homes.

Moving into our 12th year of operation, our focus remains on passengers, business, and education. We strive to deliver a premier travel experience to passengers while navigating one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. Through programs like ECP Perks, Wheels Up Summer Music Series, Super Summer Weekends, and the ECP – Tag You’re It! Giveaway, we celebrate and thank passengers with thoughtful surprises and delights throughout the year.

We aim to create new jobs and continue to be an economic development driver for Northwest Florida. Our role as the consummate host, the connection between where passengers are and where they are going, and the authority on air travel in our region means we continue to take responsibility for secure and sound flying very seriously.

With growth comes employment opportunities. We are currently seeking talent in all departments. For employment information at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, visit iflybeaches.com/airport-authority/employment.

Parker W. McClellan Jr., A.A.E., is executive director of Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport. He can be reached at PMcClellan@pcairport.com.

This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Bay County Florida's airport sees record growth

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