Okaloosa County Airport, although only a regional domestic airport, is one of the busiest in the United States. The reason for this is that it shares space with the US Air Force’s Eglin airbase (the site for USAF Air Armament Center which tests smart bombs and other high-tech weaponry), which has annual operations estimated at 500,000, ranging from high-performance fighter aircraft and turboprop and jet airliners to low-speed heavy cargo aircraft.
Okaloosa Airport has become more and more important
to the local economy: it provides more than $305m a year and 4,600 jobs depend upon the airport.
In November 2002 the Okaloosa Board of County Commissioning approved a plan to construct a new terminal building at the airport along with upgrades to the apron facilities, roadways around the terminal and landscaping.
The decision was taken because passenger facilities at the old 30,000ft² terminal, built in 1972, were becoming dated and with new tougher security arrangements following the events of 11 September 2001, the best course of action was to build a new terminal and demolish the old one.
The estimated investment for the new terminal building and associated work was $32m. The funds were provided by Okaloosa Board of County Commissioning, Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), State of Florida and the Airport Enterprise Fund.
OKALOOSA CONTRACTORS AND CONSTRUCTION
The construction contract was awarded to Centex Rooney and work began in September 2003. The scope of the project has included a new 110,000ft² airport passenger terminal building with three second-level passenger boarding bridges and three ground-level commuter gates, installation and renovation of site utilities to serve the new facility, new site roadway and landscaping in front of the new terminal along with improvements to the car parking facilities. These new facilities have allowed the airport to serve 800,000 passengers a year on average since they opened.
This was to be followed by the demolition of the King, Air Cargo and existing terminal buildings. However, in November 2004 the County Commission approved a change to the plans (Centex Rooney Change Order No.3) which altered the landscaping plan and amended the final project completion date from March 2005 to July 2005.
The change revised the landscape scope of work to include concept three ‘gateway’ landscaping, covered walkways and site work changes. Undeterred by this, the new terminal building was still opened for operation in November 2004 (with a temporary certificate of occupancy) one month ahead of the original construction schedule.
NEW TERMINAL FIT-OUT
The final stages of the project had still to be completed. Airlines and rental car companies were completing their tenant up-fit and relocation activities during November 2004 in areas A, B, C and D of prior to the opening of the new terminal.
The Hudson Group completed the restaurant and gift shop improvements, Centex Rooney completed the airport administration and sheriff’s office fit-out and relocation activities. Punch lists for subcontractors, architect and engineers were prepared for resolution by January 2005.
All external site work necessary for the temporary access to the new terminal building was completed along with a temporary road on the west side of the new terminal for public arrivals and departures (the new terminal entrance was completed by the second quarter of 2005). However, final external work could not be completed at the same time since the old terminal building was situated directly behind the new one.
Landscaping, final roadways and other external work were completed following the demolition work.The demolition of the existing terminal building was started at the end of November 2004 and completed by January 2005.
No one minded the old terminal building being demolished as the new one has much more space, better facilities and better security. The airport is serviced by five carriers: USAir Express, Continental, Delta Connection, Comair and Northwest Airlines, who are all very satisfied with the new terminal facilities.
The security arrangements are much improved with a state-of-the-art closed circuit scanning camera system that allows security personnel to view the entire complex.
The Hudson Group has opened much of the airports retail and restaurant facilities including Hudson News (books and gifts), the Euro Café (light snacks and drinks), Hudson Aeromart (light snack and drinks), the Tropical Landing Bar (state-of-the-art bar with seven plasma screen televisions) and Quiznos Subs (toasted sandwiches and drinks).
The terminal building also has a business and conference centre, although they have to be careful about WiFi and associated technology as this can interfere with US Air Force communications.
The airport introduced free WiFi internet access across the airport for all passengers in a deal with Wavenet Technologies and Okaloosa County Information Systems Department brokered in August 2007.
The sheriff’s office was used to patrols around the old, much smaller terminal building. The new terminal and the associated car parking areas give them much more area to cover so they have introduced a new police patrol vehicle – the Segway, a battery operated two-wheel personal vehicle, which resembles a cross between a scooter and a pogo stick, first developed in America by Dean Kamen.
This, after a little practice, gives a Deputy the ability to cover much more ground over his shift on patrol. The sheriff’s office has purchased two of these machines.
CAR RENTAL FACILITY IMPROVEMENTS
The latest improvement at Okaloosa Airport will be the new consolidated car rental facility that will be constructed on a 22-acre site to the east of the new terminal building.
The new facility broke ground in October 2007 and is expected to be completed by December 2008. The $9.9m facility will include its own access road from Highway 85 and the car rental building to accommodate five companies along with car servicing garage, car washes, fuel station and vacuum islands.
In addition the site will also have a new cargo facility, new airport maintenance offices and a new fuel farm for aviation fuel and unleaded gasoline.