GULF SHORES — A new commercial air terminal scheduled to be open by spring should help pave the way for commercial air service into the Gulf Shores International Airport, Airport Authority …
GULF SHORES — A new commercial air terminal scheduled to be open by spring should help pave the way for commercial air service into the Gulf Shores International Airport, Airport Authority Director Scott Fuller said.
The authority signed an agreement with TBI/VINCI Airports for the construction of a new commercial air terminal. The initial interim terminal is scheduled to open March 1. Fuller said several carriers have discussed starting flights to Gulf Shores and the terminal is a key factor in bringing in scheduled airline service to the Alabama Gulf Coast.
“We're still in discussions. We don't have any firm commitments on board yet or idea of the destinations and that will come out until November or December at the earliest,” Fuller said. “The main focus was that we needed to have that terminal in place ready to go.”
The interim terminal will be built at a cost of $3.7 million, according to a city statement. A permanent terminal is also planned in the future.
Design work will begin on the permanent structure once the number of passengers using the facility reaches 75,000 and construction will begin after the number of passengers reaches 125,000.
City officials had announced earlier this year that they hoped to have commitments for flights by August 2022. Fuller said, however, that setbacks in the airline industry, such as pilot shortages, slowed progress on those plans.
He said that the industry is gearing up again and that leisure destinations, such as the Gulf Coast, are prime targets for airlines.
“The thing is, there's a number of airlines and the ones that are especially growing right now are the low-cost carriers and the leisure destinations, not so much business communities,” Fuller said. “The legacy carriers are having a hard time, but they've got hundreds of aircraft about to arrive that they've ordered previously, and they’ve got to put them somewhere. So, I think things are going to turn around next year.”
Fuller said the Gulf Coast tourism industry is booming. Those numbers should attract airlines and commercial flights will bring in more tourists.
“We went over 8 million this year. And it is growing like crazy,” Fuller said of annual tourist visits. “I've got a call from Arkansas today. Everybody's reading the articles. They want to know when they'll be coming here. A lot more will be coming if they can fly here. They want to get out of their cars, and they want to fly here. I think this is going to be a game changer.”
He said plans are under review by the federal Transportation Security Administration and other agencies.
“The TSA is reviewing everything and everybody's on board, they understand the urgency of the matter,” Fuller said. “It’s been a long, hard couple of years here, and it's going to be a long haul a couple of years more while we transition but it’s well worth it.”