OKEECHOBEE – Okeechobee County Airport is completely self-sufficient and can use profits to save for improvements and grant matches according to information shared at the Aug. 23 meeting of the Okeechobee County Commission in the Historic Okeechobee County Courthouse.
Airport manager John Hurst said the airport has achieved success by offering fuel at competitive prices and by improving service.
When a plane lands, staff goes out to the plane to give pilots and passengers cold bottles of water and ask if they would like their fuel topped off by the fuel truck. Many do opt to have the fuel tank filled while they enjoy a meal at the Landing Strip Restaurant.
“It’s hard to resist when the truck is right there,” said Hurst.
The airport also offers self-service fuel pumps which can be used with a credit card.
Commissioner Brad Goodbread said few people want to pump their own fuel in 100 degree heat when they have a more convenient option.
Hurst said the Okeechobee County Airport uses staff training to increase safety and posts safety tips for pilots. They also hold safety meetings for pilots such as a resent presentation by a representative from the U.S. Air Force.
“We now have a separate parking area for helicopters and jets,” he said. This makes it safer for the smaller aircraft and provides a safe path for the pilots and passengers to get to the airport office and restaurant.
Hurst said fuel sales revenues are up and on track to double last year’s revenues.
Thanks to the successful changes, the airport has gone from running at a loss in Fiscal Year 2021 to a profit in 2022, he said. The airport is now covering the cost of mowing, a $90,000 per year expense previously paid by the county.
“This makes the airport fully financially self-sufficient,” said Hurst.
He said the restaurant is an asset to the airport as many pilots say they fly to Okeechobee to eat there. The cold water on arrival is also a big hit, he added, noting how often this is mentioned in reviews posted on social media.
Profits are used for reserves, matches for federal and state grants and airport improvements.
“I like the idea of making capital improvements where we can, and looking for grant opportunities,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.
“It may be time we are looking at building another set of hangers,” said Goodbread. “The airport is going in the right direction.”
“It looks great out there and we’re looking forward to bigger and better things,” said Commission Chair David Hazellief.