Weight waiver gives Naples Airport chance to land JetBlue

Flights out of Southwest Florida International Airport. Michel Fortier/Staff

Photo by MICHEL FORTIER // Buy this photo

Flights out of Southwest Florida International Airport. Michel Fortier/Staff

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Naples airport commissioners have learned commercial service through JetBlue is more feasible with a weight waiver to allow for heavier aircraft.

The Naples Municipal Airport enforces a 75,000-pound weight restriction for its runways, but the Federal Aviation Administration's prior permission rule could allow for departing flights weighing up to 115,000 pounds.

Commissioners have cited the necessity of a weight waiver, the potential shortening the life span of airport runways, and the need for more terminal space as possible hurdles in allowing commercial flights through JetBlue since the airliner first expressed interest in June.

But the question has never been whether the airport's runway can support such aircraft, rather whether a waiver could be granted in this instance. Commissioner Ernest Linneman said the waiver would not create a free-for-all situation in which all heavier aircraft would have permission to land.

"The benefit of this procedure is that the FAA still maintains the approval of the weight limit," he said. "We wouldn't be exposing ourselves to the risk of losing total control of the weight limit for aircraft using the airport."

Executive Director Ted Soliday said allowing for the waiver could take up to four years off of the runway's expected 20-year life span, if the airport sees 10 flights a day and 1,800 flights a year as allowed through the prior permission rule.

Commissioner John Allen called that potential loss negligible, but said another factor in the authority's decision should be looking at where JetBlue plans to fly to.

"Is Boston or New York the most desirable route?" Allen said. "To me, I'd rather see flights ... going to Atlanta."

Soliday also estimated $2.5 million in construction costs to expand the current terminal and strengthen the pavement outside it to support bigger aircraft.

Cormac Giblin, chair of the authority, said he considers community input the fourth factor in the possibility of JetBlue service.

The public will have another opportunity to voice its concern and ask questions when representatives from JetBlue visit at the authority's Oct. 18 meeting.

Linneman said he believes demand for commercial service exists in Naples, adding that 1.7 million passengers used commercial service when it was offered at the airport even after Southwest Florida International Airport opened in 1983.

Commissioners said they will also investigate the environmental impact of more flights.

To change the weight limit, the authority would have to agree through a supermajority vote after meeting with Naples City Council and the public.

Soliday said commissioners should make a decision about whether to bring in JetBlue by the end of the year if the airline is to begin flying in November 2013.

If the answer is yes, Soliday said there would be a lot of construction and paperwork to finish in the coming year.

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