Panama City Now Landing Planes

Panama City opens with first flights
Panama City opens with first flights
 Danny Tindell / dtindell@dothaneagle.com
A Southwest Arlines jet is at the Northwest Florida Beaches Intenational airport on Sunday, May 23, 2010.
By Debbie Ingram Published: May 24, 2010 Updated: May 24, 2010
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Buzz up!
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Passengers and sight-seers filed inside the new Panama City airport Sunday for the first flights in and out of the new $330 million facility.
The Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport, located four miles east of Florida Highway 79 just north of the West Bay Bridge, opened with a new airline serving the region. Southwest Airlines offers seven flights a day to Houston, Nashville, Washington, D.C., and Orlando. Delta Air Lines has seven flights a day to Memphis and Atlanta. “We are excited about the options with Southwest being here,” said Susan Machemer, who was at the airport to catch a plane to Buffalo, N.Y. “It’s exciting to be flying on the first day too.” She and her partner, Joe DiLorenzo, booked their flight ahead so they could fly from the new airport. And both were pleased at the tropical appearance of the terminal. Palms were located throughout the building, which was painted a seafoam green. The terminal complex is housed under a metal roof. “Southwest is the driving force that will bring people here,” said DiLorenzo of Port St. Joe. “Before we always drove to Tallahassee because it was cheaper than Panama City.” Passengers are expecting prices to remain competitive with two airlines serving the airport, and airport officials expect to lure passengers from nearby Pensacola, Dothan and Tallahassee. “The runways here are 10,000 feet so we can accommodate the bigger jets,” said Rick Koehnemann, a member of the Panama City Airport Authority. “Everybody complains about the little commuters Delta uses so there will be two big jets.” The longer runway, with room for a second, is also a tempting amenity the authority is using in talks with United Parcel Service and other businesses, who might consider hubs or other businesses on the thousands of acres surrounding the airport. The airport property was donated by St. Joe Company, which still owns thousands of acres around the new facility. Koehnemann said the new airport is also poised for international flights, with an already constructed customs inspection area located on the second floor. A few years ago, he says, airport officials were in talks with British Airways about a direct flight to London. “Then the recession hit,” he said. Mexico is another possible destination, he notes. Right now with the Southwest flights, passengers can fly to Baltimore and then on to New York without changing planes; from Nashville on to Chicago, from Houston to San Antonio and from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale, Koehnemann said. He said occupancy rates for Southwest on the first day were higher than expected. “They were hoping for 85 percent,” Koehnemann said. “It has exceeded their expectations and that number coming right before the summer tourist season is just great.” The various connections offered by Southwest are attractive, said Larry Street of DeFuniak Springs. He drove to the airport on his motorcycle Sunday morning just to take a look around. He says he will be back. “I have people coming in this week from Phoenix on Southwest,” he said. “I just wanted to check everything out before they got in. They got a good deal on the flight because Southwest flies out of Phoenix. “I don’t fly much anymore, but I do go back and forth to Colorado and Wyoming. I will try to use this airport. This is nice,” he said. “And the international part will help business in the area. I know a lot of Europeans have been attracted by the low condo prices at the beach. They just couldn’t get here. It will open things up.” Even without an international flight, Darya Lupach found her way to Panama City. The Russian woman was among one of the first passengers to see the new airport. She flew from Russia to Poland, and on to New York then Atlanta before landing in Panama City just before noon. The 21-year-old said she had no idea it was a new airport but calle d the appearance pleasing. “I am here for three months to work a summer job,” she said. “It is my first time in America.” View Article Here

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