Plan to Shut Least-Used Lantana Runway on Hold

A controversial plan that recommends shutting down one of three runways at the Lantana airport has been put on hold, Palm Beach County airport officials said Tuesday.

The plan recommends permanently closing the airport's designated "noise abatement" runway, which is designed to reduce airplane noise for nearby residents, because of "potential safety enhancements" and "reduction in county operating costs."

In a letter to the airport's primary fixed-based operator, Florida Airmotive, Airports Director Bruce Pelly said continuing with a plan that is based on the airport's "current status" would be "needless" because the county's airport advisory board may consider changing the "character and fleet mix" of the Lantana airport.

Pelly could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but airports spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda said the runway is not used as often as the other two because of the wind factor. The runway runs northeast and southwest.

Also, other abatement procedures are in place to reduce noise, she said.

The plan has been a sore spot for pilots and business owners at the airport, who fear the runway land would be used for revenue-generating commercial development instead of aviation.

"The comment has been frequently made that the department of airports has not been interested in the promotion of aviation, but it cares more about revenue producing," said J. Albert Johnson, chairman of the Lantana Airport Advisory Board, a private group made up mostly of aviation interests.

Under the plan, De La Rionda said, the runway may eventually be turned into a taxiway for airplane hangars. However, the plan would have set aside two tracts along Congress Avenue totaling about 33 acres for commercial development, she said.

At a meeting of the Lantana group on Tuesday, Johnson stressed that the plan has been put on hold only for "the time being." He urged the group's members to attend a meeting of the county's airport advisory board Wednesday, when plans for the airport will be discussed.

"If any of you think that your use of this airport as a pilot or that the economic resources of the community surrounding this airport are going to be well served by the department of airports if they adopt this kind of master plan, you are mistaken," Johnson said. "It's going to hurt you. It will hurt the safety of your flying ability. It will hurt the airport itself. It will certainly hurt the suppliers of facilities in the airport."

De La Rionda said that the 20-year plan, created by an outside aviation consultant, was still very preliminary.

And before any airport plan can move forward, it must be approved by the county's airport advisory board and the county commission, she said.

"These are long-term future plans, with the long-term being stressed," De La Rionda said. "This is a 20-year planning period."

Members of the Lantana group say retaining land for aviation use at the airport should be a top priority because it serves as a traffic reliever for Palm Beach International Airport.

This year, the Federal Aviation Administration began a 2 1/2-year, $2.8 million environmental study to consider lengthening PBIA's general aviation runway from 3,210 to 8,000 feet so that it can accommodate larger commercial jets.

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