New Panama City airport opens Sunday

Panama City and Bay County’s new airport opens Sunday amid pomp and gala with state officials visiting on Saturday. Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Sen. Bill Nelson, Sen. George LeMieux and members of the local legislative delegation are expected to attend.

The Northwest Florida Beaches Airport will have a 10,000-foot runway and is the first new international airport to open in the nation in 15 years, according to airport officials. The proposed airport faced opposition from some environmentalists who said it was being placed in heart of the biologically diverse Florida Panhandle. To see a map of biodiversity hotspots, click here.

Local officials hope the airport will attract new visitors to the region’s white sand beaches and hotels. “As we open new markets to new customers, we think when they find it they will say this is our beach of choice,” said Dan Rowe, CEO and president of the Panama City Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.

And they hope the airport, located on 4,000 acres of former St. Joe Co. land, will spur commerce and development on the adjacent company land. The airport will feature Southwest Airlines service with eight nonstop flights to Baltimore/Washington, Houston, Nashville and Orlando. Delta, which already serves the existing airport in Panama City, has 11 nonstop flights daily to Atlanta and Memphis. Crist during a 2009 site visit described the airport as a model for economic development and environmental preservation.

The Clean Water Network of Florida unsuccessfully fought the development permit for the airport, then publicized construction violations issued last year by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Supporters are describing it as one of the first “green” airports. The new facility seeks to be the one of the first LEED-certified airports and could become one of the first “carbon-neutral” airports, according an official fact sheet.

Supporters say the airport will lead to the protection of 41,000 acres as part of the West Bay Sector Plan. That plan also allows 4.4 million square feet of industrial, commercial and retail buildings, 6,300 homes and 900 marina slips.

(Story provided by The Florida Tribune. Photo courtesy of the Panama City Chamber of Commerce. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting

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