While North Roosevelt Boulevard continues to tangle traffic throughout Key West, things are going smoothly on South Roosevelt Boulevard at Key West International Airport, where record numbers of passengers have been arriving and departing.
Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton provided his yearly update to the Key West Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at the chamber's membership luncheon, where he announced that AirTran will become Southwest airline on Nov. 4 and will begin operations in Key West.
"We will welcome them with the usual sirens and water cannons from fire hoses, and I'm currently looking for a red carpet," he said, to herald the arrival of the popular airline that will offer nonstop flights from Key West to New Orleans beginning in March.
Horton also told the lunchtime audience that the local airport received an official designation as a port of entry for Cuba.
"But before you guys go all Marathon on me and ask when we'll get air service, let me just tell you that it's limited now because of our limited market, but when Cuba opens, we'll be ready," Horton said, joking about the lack of commercial air service at Florida Keys-Marathon Airport, which "has no air service because it has no market."
In Key West, where there is a market demand, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently added a second line to expedite passengers through security in the terminal during the airport's "noon balloon," the busiest time for departures between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"Also, as of Oct. 1, we'll have a new company doing the security screenings of passengers and bags," Horton said, adding that the Key West airport only has two TSA employees on site, and the security screenings were contracted out initially to Raytheon McNeil as part of the airport's participation in the federal Screening Partnership Program.
Passenger totals in 2011 were at 677,581, Horton said, adding that it was the airport's best year -- until 2012, when counts are currently up 9 percent over last year.
The high passenger counts translate into dollars for the county airport, and will enable an early repayment of the $30.6 million in bonds that the airport borrowed to build the new terminal building.
"Those bonds will be paid off by the second quarter of next year -- 23 years early," Horton said.
He ended his presentation with a short video that showed the airport's Runway Safety Area doing its job by stopping an errant Cessna in the Engineered Material Arrestor System (EMAS), which is made of material that crumbles easily and bogs down the plane that overshoots the runway.
The Cessna's five passengers walked away from the incident without a scratch, Horton said to applause and added that the $500,000 of damage the plane caused to the EMAS was fully covered by insurance.
Finally, he announced that the safety area and corresponding EMAS had been named the Florida Department of Transportation's Project of the Year last year.
"It did exactly what it was supposed to do, and everyone walked away without a scratch or bruise," he said.