Tallahassee’s airport goes international

by TaMaryn Waters, Tallahassee Democrat

From here on, call it the Tallahassee International Airport.

On Monday, city commissioners and officials unveiled a new logo, name and sign inside the airport terminal. The move marks a new chapter in Tallahassee’s economic development, one city leaders hope will result in more options and cheaper air fares for travelers.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the designation Thursday. But it’s going to be a while before booking international flights are possible.

“The international designation starts the conversation to design and build an international arrival facility at the airport,” Aviation Director Chris Curry said. “This was one of the steps that was necessary in order to move forward.”

This summer the airport will continue renovations to modernize its dated interior. In addition, design and building plans for the international arrival facility will take shape over the next few years.

The arrival facility will cost $8.5 million, which includes staffing. Money will come from future one-percent Blueprint tax revenue. Curry hopes to reduce costs by attaching it to the existing terminal. Construction could begin in 2017 or sooner based on financing.

On Monday, city officials announced the airport has a new name – Tallahassee International Airport

The new designation is expected to boost general aviation, freight carriers and commercial passenger service.

“Our overall goal is that you can go anywhere from here,” said City Commissioner Scott Maddox, lead commissioner on airport operations. “So a step in that direction is the international designation for two reasons: general aviation and for freight.”

It could also mean more business and industries moving to the Tallahassee region.

City Commissioner Nancy Miller shared an eye-opening conversation with Thomasville, Georgia, Mayor Max Beverly. He said, “The City of Roses” struck out on recruiting an attractive business, because it needed to be within 45 minutes of an international airport.

“So they chose to go somewhere else,” Miller said. “That is just one story, and they’re probably hundreds of others.”

The city reports that by having international status, companies and commercial air carriers can fly from overseas into Tallahassee without stopping at another international entry point.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the new designation is “a gigantic leap forward” for the capital of the third largest state in the country. Tallahassee is poised to bring in international freight with the dredging of the Panama Canal and reap benefits of international trade out of Asia, Gillum added.

Officials stressed the airport’s proximity to the I-10 corridor as pivotal to moving goods nationwide.

“It’s communities like ours who are going to be first to the table when it comes to determining that distribution hub,” Gillum said.

However, the airport is not without its critics.

Residents for years groused over expensive flights and opted for cheaper flights out of cities like Jacksonville, Orlando and Atlanta. Gillum acknowledged the teasing on social media about the new status.

“People said, “International to where? Miami? Atlanta?” he said. “And that speaks to the passenger side of this, and we completely understand that.

“Our staff here at the airport is keenly focused on how we can improve the passenger traveler experience here. And the truth is, if this were an easy thing to solve, we would have solved it by now.”

TLH by the numbers:

  • $399 million — Economic impact to the region within a 90-mile radius of Tallahassee.
  • 9.5 million — Pounds of freight moved out of Tallahassee’s airport, the most in the Panhandle.
  • 706,000 — Total passengers in 2014
  • 19 — Average number of daily commercial flights
  • 4 — Airlines at TLH: American, Delta, Silver and U.S. Airways
  • 2,700 — Acres at the airport
  • 1,000 — Acres available for commercial development

Important dates:

  • Oct. 8, 2014 – City Commission approves pursuit of international status.
  • Nov. 4, 2014 – Voters pass referendum to earmark $8.5 million of future Blueprint tax revenue to build an international arrival facility.
  • Jan. 14 – City Commission approved resolution to change name to Tallahassee International Airport, followed by approval requests to the Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • June 25 – Name change went into effect.

What’s next – Airport will continue interior renovations. Design and building of international arrival facility takes shape. Construction could begin in 2017 or sooner based on financing.