Upgrades planned for the Keys' two public airports

A lengthened runway at Key West International Airport is among several airport projects proposed at a cost of nearly $2 million.

Monroe County commissioners, meeting Feb. 10 in Key West, will be asked to start a 30-day public comment period on the projects.

The project to lengthen the runway by adding 280 feet onto the existing 4,800 feet is estimated to cost $750,000.

"We think it's worth it as an additional lane to increase safety," county Airports Director Don DeGraw said Tuesday.

In the past seven years, Runway 9-27 "has seen a significant increase in larger aircraft operations," from 486 to more than 1,200 in 2015, DeGraw reported to commissioners.

"Providing additional runway departure length will provide additional margin of safety" for departing aircraft.

If approved locally and by the Federal Aviation Administration, construction could begin in early 2017. The $750,000 estimated costs include planning, runway painting and light relocation.

DeGraw said he has not heard any opposition to the runway plan but with space limited in Key West, "people are always keeping a close eye on it when we shift operations."

Noise from the airport has also been an issue in the past but the county created a noise abatement program.

Much of the funding for upcoming plans comes from a $4.50-per-person airport fee imposed on passengers departing from Key West International, raising about $1.3 million annually.

"The passengers are paying for it so now they have an opportunity to speak on how their money is spent," DeGraw said of the comment period mandated by the FAA.

Upgraded security measures -- higher fences and surveillance cameras -- also are proposed. 

The departure fees also help fund planned projects like an improved baggage-handling system at Key West costing $450,000, and money to remove some hangars and move landing lights at Marathon Florida Keys International Airport.

Passenger arrivals at Key West in 2015 declined by 3.8 percent from 2014, to 346,402, the Key West Chamber of Commerce reported in its February newsletter. Southwest Airlines left Key West in June 2014, which dented passenger traffic.

However, December 2015 arrivals totaled 31,541, a 9 percent jump from December 2014.