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MARCO ISLAND — The three-month closure of the Marco Island Executive Airport for a $6.2 million runway improvement project won’t result in any lost jobs for airport employees or connected businesses.
But it will displace both charter plane businesses that operate at the airport.
The runway rehabilitation project, paid for by grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation, is slated to begin Monday.
The project is taking place during the height of tourist season because of the airport’s low elevation, which makes water drainage difficult in the summer rainy season. Also, the airport is near federally protected wetlands and a stipulation of the federal grant money won’t allow work during crocodile nesting season, which begins March 1 and runs until September.
Airport Manager Robert Tweedie said the airport’s five full-time employees would be kept busy during the shutdown.
“Nobody’s going to be furloughed,” he said. “There’s plenty of work for them to do — a lot of general-maintenance projects that need attention. Not just here, but at Immokalee Regional Airport and Everglades Airpark, too. At times, we may assign them to other locations, as well.”
All three airports are operated by the Collier County Airport Authority.
Rental-car agencies that service the Marco airport operate on an as-needed basis so those employees aren’t affected, Tweedie said.
“We have three rental service providers: Enterprise, Avis and Hertz,” he said. “They don’t have any employees based here. They deliver vehicles as needed. If someone here needs a car, they make arrangements ahead of time — or we make arrangements ahead of time — and the agency brings them out. It’s not like (Southwest Florida International Airport), where the vehicles are kept on the premises.”
Local representatives for Enterprise, Avis and Hertz declined to comment.
Both charter plane services based at the Marco Island airport plan to relocate to Naples Municipal Airport during the shutdown.
“(The shutdown’s) probably going to have a negative effect on business,” said Robert Dellaert, owner of Air Expeditions Seaplanes Adventures. “I have a customer base on Marco Island that’s pretty significant during (tourism) season, and a lot of people drive here from Naples, but it’s going to be an inconvenience for people on Marco Island to drive to Naples.”
Dellaert said he and his two employees would relocate his business to Naples Municipal Airport this weekend.
“I employ a chief pilot and a helper, but they’re not going to be furloughed, and I’m not going to raise rates,” he said.
A pilot for 35 years, Dellaert said the bulk of his business comes from chartered flights to Key West.
“We fly a Cessna 310 and we can make it there in about 35 minutes,” he said. “During season, we take a trip just about every day.”
Dave Odom, owner of Island Hoppers Aerial Adventures, said he and his three employees also would relocate to Naples Municipal Airport this weekend.
“At this point, it’s a huge unknown (how the airport closure will affect business),” Odom said. “The bulk of our business is here on Marco Island. Like everybody else ... we realize that they picked the worst time of year to do this from an economic standpoint: during the heart of season. This is the time of year that pays the bills for the rest of the year.”
Odom, who recently moved his primary business operations from Marathon to Marco Island, said his company’s charter helicopter service is a tangible victim of the airport closure.
“We were going to move our helicopter here this winter, but canceled that plan after finding out about the closure,” he said. “Nixed it altogether for the season.”