Kissimmee’s Forward March

Following a decade of growth, airport targets international traffic, cargo

KISSIMMEE, FL — Despite the impacts of 9/11, the 2004 hurricane season (three hurricanes in six weeks), and the recent fuel spike and economic recession, the last decade has been a period of consistent growth for Kissimmee Gateway Airport (ISM). With the installation of an instrument landing system and more than 200,000-square feet of hangar, office, and fixed based operator facilities built since 1998, director Terry Lloyd continues to look for ways to enhance the airport’s capabilities and, in turn, increase both recreational and business aviation activity.

Built during World War II as an Air Force base in 1942 and located just eight miles from Walt Disney World, as well as minutes from numerous convention hotel properties in the Southwest Orlando Metro area, Kissimmee Gateway Airport is “in the midst of a building boom,” says director Terry Lloyd.

With a T-hangar development, a new fuel farm, a 6,000-square foot flight school hangar, and another 10,000-square foot hangar all under construction, the general aviation airport still has the largest stock of vacant aviation property in the greater Orlando area, says Lloyd, and as Orlando grows, “so shall we.”

Prior to Kissimmee, Lloyd was on active duty in the Air Force for more than 20 years working in airport management and aviation operations. No longer an active pilot, Lloyd has been the director of aviation at ISM for eight years. With many of the short-term plans for the airport’s development nearly complete, Lloyd is now focusing on weathering the economic downturn and planning for the long-term which could include a U.S. Custom’s terminal and an increase in air cargo operation capabilities.

Airport biz
Flight activity and fuel sales are down roughly 5-10 percent, says Lloyd, and for planning purposes, an estimated 25 percent decline is projected for 2009.

“The industry has taken a double hit with high fuel prices last year and the recent negative perception aimed at corporate flight travel. Now the general problems with the economy are compounding that,” says Lloyd.

Fuel sales have been hit hardest; yet fortunately for ISM, says Lloyd, a newly installed ILS system has allowed the airport’s major FBOs to attract more based customers. Currently, more than 200 aircraft are based at the airport. The majority of ISM’s corporate traffic is transient, and the airport doesn’t house any corporate flight departments.

Of some 155,000 total annual operations in 2008, corporate aircraft made up more than 3,500 of those operations. The business aircraft economic impact, however, is entirely disproportionate with the smaller planes. With two flight schools on the field, flight training contributes heavily to the total flight count.

According to Lloyd, the airport generates an annual revenue of $900,000. The airport is a city department which operates without any tax revenue, and has been able to do that for the last 15 years. “The city was very proactive in keeping the airport open and making improvements; it got to a financial point where the city didn’t need to subsidize the airport,” says Lloyd.

“That’s not an easy task to do with a general aviation airport. Obviously that’s tied to our location in Orlando.”

An FAA study found that the airport’s “estimated economic impact” is $51 million annually. “We are able to generate a lot of economic activity through the airport,” says Lloyd.

Kissimmee Gateway is growing with private dollars and Lloyd relates that he likes to think of the airport as running very much like an entrepreneurial small business.

“These are lean growth years,” says Lloyd. “But ten, 20, or 30 years down the road, the airport will be able to lease out facilities constructed with private dollars, giving us more money to work with.”

Impact of state grants
The state of Florida has an effective aviation grant program, relates Lloyd. Florida takes state tax money on aviation fuel and diverts the dollars to a trust fund. The state then makes grants available to airports in much the same way FAA allocates Airport Improvement Program funding.

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