On any given day during season, the Marco Island Executive Airport can see as many as 15-20 corporate aircraft come in or lay over at the county-run facilities just off Marco Island.
“That number can rise somewhat during the peak holiday seasons surrounding Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter,” said Kate Whitson, the airport operations supervisor.
Whitson, a third-generation lover of aviation, is a 1999 graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Her degree was in management of technical operations with a minor in accident investigation.
Her grandmother, grandfather and dad were all pilots, along with several aunts and uncles.
Whitson’s 8-year-old son just took his first turn at the controls during a ride with his mom and she hopes he’ll make it four generations when the time comes.
After a four-year stint with Cessna Aircraft, Whitson moved home to Michigan and helped her mother in the real estate business before moving south.
Both she and Justin Lobb, airports manager at Collier County Airport Authority, agree that Marco’s facilities are some of the best in class within Florida.
“With the addition of the new taxiway a few years ago and the plans to relocate the old terminal to allow for additional ramp parking when the funding is acquired will certainly continue to enhance the facilities here,” said Lobb.
One of the other-long range goals is to provide additional hanger space. That project will utilize private funding with leasing of the land from the airport.
Whitson is no stranger to Marco Island.
She spent about a year working for the city in growth management prior to the job opening up within the airport authority.
“In our busy season the present configuration of the ramp usually houses approximately 40 aircraft,” said said Whitson. “Our 12 hangers are full, with a waiting list of almost 60 persons hoping to one day house their planes here.”
There are two flight schools at the airport in addition to two charter aircraft companies, one of which runs scheduled trips to Key West and other locations throughout the state.
“One of the greatest thrills this winter was when five Robinson R-44 helicopters came in to refuel on their journey from Quebec Province to Key West,” said Whitson. “They did the trip as part of a two-week vacation and we were thrilled to have them stop by and visit with us prior to flying over the Everglades on their way to Key West.”
“We do try to accommodate the needs of our clients here at the airport while providing them a friendly and helpful stay when they fly in,” said Whitson.
The presence of a NetJet aircraft on the ramp was something that Whitson and Lobb said is indicative of a rapidly increasing phenomenon at the airport.
“The fractional ownership of aircraft is an ever-increasing occurrence within the aviation industry, and we are seeing more of our visitors coming in on those types of conveyances,” said Lobb.
The impact on the Greater Marco economy is estimated at about $28 million during the year, with 10 full-time jobs attributed to the operation of the airport, said Lobb.