Inverness airport runway construction

Construction work has begun on the runway at the Inverness airport. Above, heavy equipment sits idle Friday, Sept. 10, as a crop dusting airplane takes off.

The Inverness Airport's evening aviation lights are dark this month.

Workers at the county airport are closing off one paved connector strip between the runway and taxi drive and refurbishing the others. The airport is closed at night and opens during the day for as many as 100 planes to take off or land.

In most cases the $800,000 project, paid for mostly by federal aviation and state transportation agencies, would not garner much public interest. Only local pilots concern themselves with the airport’s goings on.

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The project on its face may appear unexciting, but it is the latest in a long series of improvements to the airport that dates back to before 1947.

The latest project is the connector and taxiway, but people like Quincy Wylupek, the county’s engineering project manager who oversees airport improvements, has watched and overseen many airport projects costing millions of dollars and leading to this one. Others are in the works and costing as much.

The latest project was initiated by the Federal Aviation Administration not wanting the connecter strip in line with the apron and the current 10,000 square-foot hanger and 5,000 square-foot office space used by the airport’s fixed base operator, Wylupek said. The airport’s FBO is Right Rudder Aviation and oversees the daily operations of the airport.

Right Rudder Aviation operates a popular flight school on the 347-acre property on South Airport Road outside of Inverness.

The airport’s history is a long one, but mostly unknown by the general public.

It was constructed during the late 1940s, a product of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, according to county commission records of the time. The federal agency paid for construction and was part of an effort to build and upgrade airports across the country during the growing popularity of civilian airports.

There was a private airport with two runways just west of the current airport and was formerly Southern Phosphate and Development Company property.

That private airport was built to help transport guests during the 1920s and 1930s to Citrus County and Orange Hotel in Inverness, according to information collected by George McDonald, a member of the county’s aviation advisory council.

After the land boom and bust of the 1920s, the airport fell into disuse sometime after 1936.

The Inverness airport’s runway was about 2,200 feet long.

The airport saw one of its first innovations in the 1970s when the county built hangers on the north side of the airport and leased them to generate income, Wylupek said.

There are now 19 hangers on the north end of the airport and 17 on the south. The latest hangers were built in 2014.

The airport sees between 75 to 100 landings or takeoffs per day.

In 2010, the county lengthened the runway to 5,000 feet, the length that most pilots of small and medium sized commercial planes prefer, Wylupek said.

“We wanted to attract more of that,” he said.

Two years later, the county, using mostly Federal Aviation Administration funding built the current 5,000 square foot FBO office and 10,000 square foot hanger next door.

The runway cost nearly $5 million, the hangers $1.3 million.

While the connectors and taxiway are what’s presently being worked on, Wylupek and the county are now looking at the 75 acres that make up the business park on the airport’s south end.

The county is drafting a scope of work for the project to add infrastructure such as roads, stormwater protection, and utilities to the property. Wylupek predicts there are many businesses that would prefer to set up in the park close to the airfield.

He said that Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity gave the county $5 million to build the infrastructure in the park, as well as extending the taxiway by the runway to the park. The grant requires the project to be completed by June, 2023.

Also in the works are plans to add more parking spaces to the FBO building which now has 18. The county will build seven more.

Also in the works are plans for 16 more hangers on the south side of the airport, costing $3 million. The county will also work to market the business park as that nears completion, Wylupek said.

In 2025, the county will draw up a new master plan for the airport.   

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.