'A GOOD LOOKING RUNWAY': Destin Airport reopens after runway overhaul

Matt Algarin
After more than a month of work, the Destin Airport runway has been completely resurfaced and is now open to air traffic.

Within minutes of the Destin Airport's newly replaced runway opening Friday morning, planes were touching down.

"We had our first incoming arrival at 6:03 a.m.," Okaloosa County Deputy Airports Director Tracy Stage told The Log. "We had our first departure at 6:09 a.m."

Crews from C.W. Roberts and RS&H have spent the past month working through a complete resurfacing of the 5,000-feet-long by 100-feet-wide runway at Coleman Kelly Field.

The skies over Destin had been rather quiet since the runway closed to fixed-wing air traffic Feb. 4 for the airport's first major repairs since it opened in 1963. The final safety inspection and cleanup took place Thursday, and the project wrapped up that night.

As part of the roughly $5 million project, the airport's electronic runway navigation system, taxiway signs, directional signs, and runway signs were replaced. Modern, cost-efficient LED lights were installed.

The runway was originally expected to open for business Feb. 12, but weather stymied those plans. Despite the delays, Stage told The Log that the repairs wrapped up "as planned and under budget."

"We may be able to use the leftover money from the runway for other projects," Stage said, noting that the airport's taxiways are still in need of resurfacing.

Stage said the Destin Airport sees roughly 60,000 flights annually. That number can fluctuate based on the current economy.

With major work completed, the only thing left for crews to finish up is the permanent striping on the runway, which will be done in about 30 days, since the asphalt needs time to cure.

"It's a good looking runway," Stage said.

Now that the runway is up and running, airport officials can turn their attention to other projects, such as the proposed air traffic control tower.

The tower was approved earlier this year, when the Federal Aviation Administration accepted the small airport into its contract tower program. The tower, which would cost roughly $3 million to construct, would stand about 84.5 feet tall and be located on the eastern side of the runway, forward of the midway point.

For years county officials, city leaders, local pilots and residents have debated the merits of an air traffic control tower in Destin. Some say it's not necessary, while other say it's vital to air safety.

Given an increase in the number of small planes, helicopters, military operations and parasail operators that navigate the skies in Destin, Okaloosa County Airports Director Greg Donovan has told city leaders the tower would allow for simultaneous launches between Destin, the Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) and Eglin Air Force Base, which are prohibited currently.

As part of the proposed tower plans, an environmental assessment was recently completed, Stage said.

"We have a funding plan in place for the tower and the access road that would lead to the tower," he said.

Construction could begin as early as 2014.