June 28, 2024 8:00am

PBIA runway expansion gets thumbs up

Palm Beach influencers are ready for take off on plans to extend PBIA runway

Photo of Joe Capozzi
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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Palm Beach International Airport’s runway expansion plans have long been a source of anxiety for noise-weary residents in neighborhoods immediately east and west of the airport.

But a majority of Palm Beach Power Poll members — 72 percent — support the latest proposal to extend a parallel runway at PBIA to 8,000 feet from 3,214, a move that would give the West Palm Beach airport two runways capable of handling commercial jets.

Our June poll had a response rate of nearly 38 percent.

PBIA, with just one 10,000-foot runway for commercial jets, is in a competitive market. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport services about 35 million passengers a year while Miami International handles 52 million.

For the first time, PBIA topped 8 million passengers over a 12-month period ending this past May.

“If we want West Palm Beach to start competing with the likes of Miami and Fort Lauderdale in our blossoming business, tech, and finance sectors, it's about damn time our airport grows up,’’ said influencer Alex Cull, a strategist for Amazon Business.

The parallel runway expansion, authorized by the Palm Beach County Commission on April 16, won’t happen overnight. It’s expected to take 10 to 12 years, starting with exhaustive environmental studies, and it will be at least four years before the project reaches design stages, as reported by Stet News.

But it’s being closely watched by citizens groups, who are worried about more aircraft flying more often over their homes, creating more noise and possibly forcing out residents like it did decades ago to neighborhoods immediately east of 95 and west of Military Trail.

“In addition to costing the taxpayers money, an additional runway would detrimentally affect tax revenues for the surrounding neighborhoods because of the negative effect on property values,’’ said influencer Rick Rose, proprietor of Palm Beach Vacation Rentals and a board member of the West Palm Beach Downtown Neighborhood Association.

He added, “historic neighborhoods would be decimated to the east of the airport, reversing a long, hard-fought renaissance to revive those once dilapidated neighborhoods.’’

The parallel runway targeted for expansion is next to the airport’s main 10,000-foot runway. At 3,214 feet, it is too short for commercial jets and solely used by small aircraft.

If it’s extended to 8,000 feet, the two parallel runways would not allow simultaneous arrivals and departures of commercial jets because they are too close together. But they would allow for staggered departures, increasing PBIA’s capacity, as Stet reported.

Meanwhile, about 25 miles northwest of PBIA, plans are in the works to extend the runway at the North Palm Beach County General Aviation Airport west of Palm Beach Gardens. Eighty-three percent of Power Poll influencers back that plan, which would accommodate private jets like Cessnas and Gulfstreams.

A consultant’s study found that noise from extending the runway at the North County Airport will not impact any homes, including the Avenir development less than 2 miles away.

“Build those longer runways. We’re all grown up now,’’ said Sid Dinerstein, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party.

PBIA is the South Florida airport that services the needs of a majority of Power Poll influencers. Sixty-three percent who responded to our poll said they use PBIA, while 33 percent use Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood.

“When I fly, I like to leave from the closest airport, PBIA,’’ said Debi Murray, chief curator at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County. “Why start or end a trip where I must drive a couple of hours each way? That makes starting and ending a trip in a bad mood a given.’’

But PBIA is not the most convenient airport for customers seeking the kinds of nonstop long-distance flights offered at airports in Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

“I travel frequently out of PBI and struggle to find a direct flight when trying to head to Vancouver or Seattle,’’ said Cull, who lives in Lake Worth Beach.

Amazon considered hosting an annual event in West Palm Beach last year before deciding to host it in Austin, Texas, instead because “the majority of employees on the West Coast could not secure a direct flight,’’ Cull said.

‘That's 3,000 individuals filling our hotels, our restaurants, using our local event services, for a week, that we missed out on,’’ he said. “We opted to put our satellite office in Miami, rather (than) West Palm, for this reason as well.’’

Still, two runways for commercial jets at PBIA are not “not in the strategic interests of South Florida,’’ said Rose.

“Three airports within 60 miles of each other is already enough capacity,’’ he said.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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