Port-a-port airplane hangars are almost self-descriptive. They’re designed to be portable, temporary shelters for private airplanes. The shape resembles a “T,” with a larger section in the middle for housing the fuselage and two lower sections for protecting the wings.
There are 27 port-a-ports at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport but they’ll be removed by early 2018 by order of airport officials. The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority and airport staff are working through a plan to replace the temporary hangars with permanent structures designed to handle hurricane-force winds.
And some port-a-port owners aren’t happy about it.
“I love this airport,” said Jim Faix, who used his port-a-port to rehab a 1956 Cessna 172. “But just let us alone and let us be there.”
Faix and other port-a-port owners pay $100 per month for the ground space at SRQ. After the hangar replacement job is done, the cost to rent a hangar could be upwards of $400 per month.
Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport President and CEO Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo and staff think the port-a-ports are a hazard. The owners of the port-a-port hangars believe otherwise and hired an engineer to assess their structural integrity.
5 to 7 percentAmount of revenue derived from general aviation at SRQ, compared to the 40 percent derived directly from commercial airlines
According to a report signed by Richard D. Wilson, a professional engineer at Wilson Structural Consultants Inc. and provided to the Bradenton Herald by Richard Moran, who rents a port-a-port at SRQ:
“The condition of the hangars varied from one to the next. Most appeared to be well maintained with minimal deterioration of main framing members. Some roof and wall panels look like they had been repaired or replaced. Some roof and wall panels looked like they needed to be repaired or replaced. ... Overall, it is my professional opinion that these mobile structures are providing adequate protection from the elements and appear to be adequately tied down. They are not designed to accommodate current wind load requirements for permanent structures but do offer weather protection to the aircraft currently using them.”
Faix and Moran have offered to paint and rehab the structures to make them more structurally sound. They’ve also offered to double their $1 million liability insurance policies. But Piccolo isn’t convinced the offers would help.
“You’re talking about 40-year-old structures,” Piccolo said. “I don’t care how much you paint it, it’s not going to strengthen it.”
Each portable hangar owner is required to carry at least $1 million in insurance, but Piccolo argues $1 million wouldn’t pay for damage to the airplanes in open-air tie down spots or injuries potentially caused by port-a-ports when a hurricane or tropical storm hits. The safety element concerns Piccolo the most.
68 Waiting list for hangars at SRQ
“When a hurricane comes, they’re not going to be there,” Piccolo said of the port-a-port renters. “My guys, my police and fire will be there trying to keep things safe.”
He also noted that compared to other general aviation facilities in the area, SRQ’s offerings have more for pilots, including 24-hour police and fire protection, a monitored fence and 18-hour traffic-control monitoring. The airport does not collect taxes, so Piccolo said users of the airport pay for the improvements and services.
At the Aug. 22 Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority meeting, the board chose a consultant to help with the new hangars project. Without first determining the usability of the concrete pads the port-a-ports sit on and the cost of building new hangars, Piccolo is unsure of the project cost and how many hangars will be built. He hopes to build enough to accommodate the airport’s entire waiting list.
No matter what you do someone will be unhappy. There is no perfect solution outside of can we build enough of them to accommodate everyone? And even then, I'm sure there will be complaints.
Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, SRQ president and CEO
When the chosen consultant, Sarasota-based Infrastructure Consulting and Engineering, comes back with conclusions and the airport can better estimate cost, they’ll begin talks with the Florida Department of Transportation to determine eligible grants.
“If we can’t get any funding, the board may very well state we’re going to have to pick up the cost of this and that’s what we’re going to do,” Piccolo said. “And you know, that’s the board. They run the airport; I’m just the hired help.”