air park improvements

An employee of Clearwater Airpark Inc., the fixed-base operator for the small, municipal airpark on North Hercules Avenue in Clearwater, fuels a private plane in January.

CLEARWATER — Clearwater’s municipal airpark off North Hercules Avenue is a quiet place where private pilots walk across the grass from the terminal to their planes. A picnic bench beneath the spreading branches of a big tree provides a great place to watch Cessnas, BeechCraft, and other small planes come and go.

The airpark officially opened in 1939 as Clearwater Executive Airpark, catering primarily to transient aircraft. In 1980, the city of Clearwater repurchased the lease for the airport portion of the property, and the city has owned the airport since that time.

The single runway runs along the length of the private Landings Golf Club, providing golfers with a great reason to avoid hooking or slicing their drives.

Home to Tampa Bay Aviation flight school, this little airport has modest, but expensive dreams. Its short-term, $13.6 million capital improvement plan wish list includes $2.4 million for a new terminal, perimeter security, $4.684 million for new hangars (picture a long shed under which aircraft can park), the expansion of aircraft parking areas, and other improvements.

The airpark’s main building, dubbed the terminal, contain the offices of Barbara Cooper, the fixed base operator manager for Clearwater Airpark Inc. It’s Cooper’s job to manage the airpark, including the aviation fuel sales and other services pilot visitors and tenants require. The terminal also houses the flight school offices and a counter for customer service. Squawks and cockpit communications can be heard through wall speakers throughout the small building, which was refurbished in 2014.

“The terminal we have now is an older portable building that’s going to reach the end of its life sometime soon,” said Ed Chesney, the city’s Marine and Aviation director. “We envision a permanent structure, not a mobile, or portable structure, which we have now.”

Chesney and Cooper also want to upgrade the security features at the airpark.

“We’d like to upgrade our security cameras and build a more-sophisticated perimeter barrier,” Chesney said. “We would like to install electronic, locking gates that require key cards so unauthorized people can’t gain entry.”

The airpark underwent other improvements in 2014 when it won Florida General Aviation Airpark of the Year, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

According to the FDOT, the airpark’s single runway, Runway 16/34, was extended by 610 feet, giving it an overall length of 4,000 feet. The entire runway and taxiway was also leveled and resurfaced. A number of trees on the property were trimmed or removed for better runway approach clearance.

A lighted windsock was installed north of the field as technicians deployed an Automated Airport Weather Station III system that beams a computer-generated voice message that broadcasts over the radio to pilots in the vicinity of the airport. Information include barometric pressure, wind (knots), wind direction, sky conditions, cloud conditions and other weather details for the airpark.

Other 2014 included a new campus for the Civil Air Patrol that includes five new modular buildings and a 4,500 square-foot drill pad.

General aviation master plans are required by the FDOT to ensure municipal and smaller airports outside of the federal system maintain modern and safe operations. When no federal funding is available, FDOT may provide up to 80 percent of general aviation airport project costs, Chesney said.

Meanwhile, the new terminal and other improvements in the next several years will be built as money becomes available, Chesney said.

“The plan we have now is updated and includes what are known as blast pads (to protect the ground from powerful jet exhaust that can blow soil away),” Chesney said. “The plan is filled with some very lofty projects, most of them won’t be built.”

Meanwhile, the airpark is preparing for its annual open house for families and airplane enthusiasts, on Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There will be vintage aircraft on view as well as flight demonstrations, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office displays, and Clearwater Fire & Rescue equipment on site.

Private fixed-wing and helicopter flight instructors also will be there to describe the process of obtaining a pilot’s license. For more information, call the airpark at 727-443-3433.