A Decade of Growth for ECP

By Del Lee

It has been 10 years since North­west Flori­da Beach­es Inter­na­tion­al Air­port (ECP) replaced Pana­ma City-Bay Coun­ty Inter­na­tion­al Air­port (PFN). On May 23, 2010, ECP opened on a 4,000-acre plot of land in north­west­ern Bay Coun­ty that was donat­ed by the St. Joe Com­pa­ny. Since then, the Air­port has become an essen­tial gate­way to the North­west Flori­da Region. In 2019, approx­i­mate­ly 1.3 mil­lion trav­el­ers passed through ECP, set­ting a record, and as the Region’s tourism and busi­ness­es con­tin­ue to boom, ECP makes plans to con­tin­ue to meet grow­ing and chang­ing trav­el demands.

Cel­e­brat­ing a 10-year anniver­sary dur­ing a glob­al health pan­dem­ic that has brought the avi­a­tion indus­try to a halt in recent weeks feels bit­ter­sweet. We feel grate­ful and over­joyed for the Airport’s growth as we look back at the suc­cess­es over the past decade. We want to cel­e­brate the pas­sen­gers, the part­ners and the team mem­bers that were instru­men­tal in those suc­cess­es. At the same time our hearts go out to every­one who can’t trav­el right now, as well as those on the front lines in our Region, State and Nation fight­ing to end COVID-19

Our foot­print con­tin­ues to expand as we fur­ther strength­en our net­work with new routes, giv­ing pas­sen­gers even more trav­el options. Hav­ing a thriv­ing Air­port is valu­able for the entire Region. It means more out­bound flight options for res­i­dents and more oppor­tu­ni­ties to wel­come pas­sen­gers trav­el­ing for plea­sure or to con­duct busi­ness in our area. We are proud of ECP’s growth, and while growth has not been easy, it’s been accom­plished with hard work and the unwa­ver­ing ded­i­ca­tion from part­ners shar­ing a com­mon goal: to con­stant­ly build upon and improve our sur­round­ing economy.

We have come a long way since we opened our doors, thanks to the sup­port of our team, our Board of Direc­tors, and strong com­mu­ni­ty part­ners includ­ing Bay Coun­ty TDC, Wal­ton Coun­ty TDC, Bay Coun­ty Cham­ber of Com­merce, Pana­ma City Beach Cham­ber of Com­merce, Bay Coun­ty Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment Alliance (Bay EDA), and Wal­ton Area Cham­ber of Com­merce to name a few. ECP is poised for even more growth thanks to the col­lab­o­ra­tion of all our partners.

The Air­port and the Region’s eco­nom­ic part­ners work each day to attract new com­pa­nies and explore the expan­sion of exist­ing com­pa­nies. Over the past decade, ECP and Bay EDA have worked hard to attract new busi­ness­es to the Air­port. It is a long process, and we are see­ing pos­i­tive changes and hope to soon announce projects that will diver­si­fy our busi­ness­es at the Air­port. Our Region has faced chal­lenges, such as the after­math of Hur­ri­cane Michael, the clo­sure of an aero­space com­pa­ny that had recent­ly plant­ed roots at Ven­ture Cross­ings adja­cent to the Air­port, and now the cur­rent pan­dem­ic. How­ev­er, we’ve con­tin­ued to see tremen­dous growth in our local econ­o­my and have helped to cre­ate jobs in the area. 

Since open­ing day, South­west Air­lines and Delta Air Lines have been sig­na­to­ry air­line part­ners. In 2015, we proud­ly wel­comed Unit­ed Air­lines, and in the Spring of 2018, Amer­i­can Air­lines began dai­ly non­stop ser­vice at the Air­port. Today, all four air­lines are sig­na­to­ry air­lines and are com­mit­ted to our Region. With each grow­ing sea­son, our air­line part­ners enhance ser­vice to meet the demand of both tourists and locals trav­el­ing through the Air­port, and in our peak sea­son offer more than 16 non­stop route options to major hubs for passengers.

Over the last 10 years, we have made changes to ensure a pos­i­tive pas­sen­ger expe­ri­ence includ­ing updat­ing the bar/​restaurant, gift shop, offer­ing mul­ti­ple ground trans­porta­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties, relo­cat­ing the Mil­i­tary Wel­come Cen­ter to bet­ter serve our mil­i­tary, retirees and their fam­i­lies, but the biggest change is the addi­tion of 7,000 square feet of expand­ed Ter­mi­nal near the board­ing gates and soon all gates will have pas­sen­ger load­ing bridges.

As part of our Mas­ter Plan, we con­tin­ue to work toward improve­ments designed to sat­is­fy long-term pro­ject­ed avi­a­tion demand in a log­i­cal and finan­cial­ly fea­si­ble man­ner. We are now in the ear­ly phas­es of a 20-month mas­ter plan analy­sis and update. The goals for our Mas­ter Plan con­sid­er key ter­mi­nal build­ing areas, run­way sys­tems, park­ing, busi­ness devel­op­ment, envi­ron­men­tal aspects and more. 

We’re also excit­ed about improve­ments out­side our doors. In part­ner­ship with FDOT, State Road 388 is being realigned and a new round­about will improve the inter­sec­tion lead­ing to the Air­port by pro­vid­ing more seam­less access for enter­ing and exit­ing traf­fic, with com­ple­tion sched­uled by 2024. The area around the Air­port is thriv­ing as well, at Ven­ture Cross­ings with a Hilton Gar­den Inn and devel­op­ment of Lat­i­tude Mar­gar­i­taville Watersound.

Our num­ber one pri­or­i­ty is the safe­ty and secu­ri­ty of pas­sen­gers and staff. Among oth­er safe­ty improve­ments and manda­to­ry FAA emer­gency drills per­formed reg­u­lar­ly, ECP became the first air­port in the nation to install a ful­ly oper­a­tional drone detec­tion and defense sys­tem. This ensures the safe­ty of arriv­ing and depart­ing air­craft in part­ner­ship with Pana­ma City-based drone detec­tion tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny, DeTect. 

Like all oth­er indus­tries, COVID-19 has impact­ed the avi­a­tion indus­try glob­al­ly, and ECP has seen trav­el decrease by more than 90 per­cent since ear­ly trav­el restric­tions were put in place. The Air­port, in part­ner­ship with the air­lines, is work­ing to make your trav­el expe­ri­ence safe. The Air­port is ensur­ing high touch areas are cleaned and dis­in­fect­ed reg­u­lar­ly and is prac­tic­ing social dis­tanc­ing when­ev­er pos­si­ble. The Air­lines are thor­ough­ly clean­ing and dis­in­fect­ing their air­craft between flights to ensure your safe­ty. When the time is right, our Team looks for­ward to wel­com­ing trav­el­ers back to ECP, and we stand ready to meet the demand that we know will continue. 

Air­ports are spe­cial places. The Ter­mi­nal is a place full of excite­ment for long week­end get­aways, emo­tion­al see you again soons,” heart­felt reunions among friends and fam­i­ly, and warm wel­come homes for our return­ing heroes. This pan­dem­ic reminds us of oth­er moments in his­to­ry when indus­tries like avi­a­tion took a hard hit but returned from cri­sis and recov­ered even stronger. Our Region is no dif­fer­ent with our resilien­cy to nat­ur­al dis­as­ters on the main stage over the last few years. With each chal­lenge, we always come togeth­er, lift each oth­er up and come out stronger.

We are proud of how far we’ve come as an Air­port, as a com­mu­ni­ty and as a Region, and we look for­ward to the next decade of growth ahead. 

Del Lee is the Chair­man of the Board of Direc­tors of the North­west Flori­da Beach­es Inter­na­tion­al Air­port. He can be reached at dlee@​pcairport.​com.