After “probably a decade” of exhaustive work, Okaloosa County and Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS) officials have landed a key joint-use partnership extension with Eglin Air Force Base.
County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, the liaison between the county and its three airports, called the new agreement, "One of the biggest document signings I've been part of in my eight years as a county commissioner."
Ketchel is right on target.
The years it took to finalize the agreement will pay off immediately and immensely by solidifying the airport’s future and keeping Okaloosa County relevant to the millions of people who fly into the Panhandle’s vacation paradises.
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With officials expecting VPS’s year-end numbers to show about 2 million passengers served, Okaloosa County Airports Director Tracy Stage said the dramatic growth from 700,000 passengers just five years ago brings an impact of about $2 billion annually.
Those numbers are huge, and vital to keeping the local economy booming in these uncertain times.
As reported by the Daily News’ Tom McLaughlin, the joint-use deal through 2063 to share space on Eglin's property was approved Jan. 4 by the Okaloosa County Commission. While the partnership still must be approved by the Air Force's deputy secretary for installations, that appears to be a formality, according to Stage.
"The county and the Air Force are in full agreement," Stage said. "Our goal was to gain some flexibility in our peak seasons and not impact the military missions at the airport. We accomplished that …"
The daily "cap" on commercial flights in and out of the airport will be increased with the agreement, he said, and VPS also will have opportunities for growth.
A place for growth is key, as a new concourse for Allegiant Airlines is set to open in April. The airports division is debt free and "smashing every record,” Stage noted.
"It took probably a decade, and I think we went through six (Eglin) commanders in the time it took to get it done,” Ketchel said. “The devil was in the details.
"A lot of people don't understand the ramifications, but it's a perfect marriage between the military and tourism."
Ah, yes, marriages. Sometimes they don’t work out as planned, but this time both sides were willing to compromise during the extensive negotiations. Each side gave a little, and the county gained a lot.
This marriage appears to be a match made in heaven.
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This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Editorial: Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS), Eglin joint-use deal