General aviation is big business at Naples Municipal Airport, which still hopes for airline service.
Naples Municipal Airport is throttling up its role as economic engine as Southwest Florida enters its high season for vacation- and business-based travelers.
And that’s without any scheduled airline service of any size on the horizon.
The airport is flush with charter service, and is a magnet for corporate jets and general aviation aircraft.
Airline service there, however, has been sporadic in recent years, with the last major airline ending limited service in 2007, despite community support.
The recession-wracked airline industry has changed significantly, leaving opinion mixed on whether small airports such as Naples’ will ever again win service from an airline of national stature.
Still, Naples Municipal’s economic influence in the region is significant.
“It’s very important to the economy. The convenience of being able to fly into a Page Field (Fort Myers’ general aviation airport) or a Naples Municipal is very helpful to the business community,” said Gary Jackson, economist and director of the Regional Economic Institute at FGCU.
A state transportation department analysis for 2010 shows Naples Municipal pumps almost $121 million into the local economy yearly, and generates 500 jobs directly, and more than 2,300 jobs directly and indirectly.
By comparison, Page Field airport contributed $94.5 million, and was credited with 987 jobs.
Naples Airport Authority estimates about 75 percent of aviation traffic at the airport is business-related, including small-business owners who fly themselves to meetings elsewhere in Florida and the Southeast, and Fortune 500 firms who bring in key employees for meetings closer to the the corporate executives’ winter digs.
More than 50 businesses are based at the airport, including aircraft maintenance, repair and detailing services, flight schools, car rental agencies, a pilots’ shop and a physician who performs Federal Aviation Administration-required pilot physical exams.
“I took a step of faith, and bought a fairly large hangar here in 2007. I’m not disappointed I did,” said Rex Gasteiger, owner of RexAir Flight & Maintenance Center. His business employs 10 full- and part-time workers, teaching people to fly, renting airplanes to them, and doing aircraft maintenance.
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