Airport Update Includes Latest Noise Mitigation Plan

Lakeland Linder International Airport’s latest plan to reduce aircraft noise over Lakeland neighborhoods is getting a final review this week before being submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, the airport’s interim director told city commissioners on Monday.

After the FAA rejected a plan for a visual approach last year, airport officials connected with Hughes Aerospace, at the FAA’s recommendation, to craft an instrument approach.

“We’ve been working on this approach now for quite some time and we hope to have it in late winter/early spring is what our goal is,” Kris Hallstrand told commissioners during an annual update on the airport’s operations and economic impact.

Part of the issue is air traffic from both Tampa and Orlando International airports to the west and east of Lakeland. The new plan incorporates feedback from Tampa Air Control, she said.

“The airport recognizes that there’s noise in the community. I would like to quantify right off the front end that, you know, we are not responsible for the airspace,” Hallstrand said. “However, it is our social responsibility to try to come up with a mitigation, some sort of solution. We can’t please everybody, but we’re definitely going to try to please the masses.”

One approach they are hoping to implement is a landing and take off using the Polk Parkway as a guide.

“It comes up, follows the tollway and then it breaks off and that’s where it shows here, where it breaks off and then it catches right straight into our runway,” Hallstrand said, pointing to a map for commissioners. “So this is an approach that we’re trying to put into place. And we are also trying to make that approach work for departures, as well.”

The noise issue emerged after Amazon Air began regular cargo flights into and out of the airport in July 2020.

Amazon Air
City of Lakeland

Amazon has 13 arrivals and 13 departures daily in Lakeland, moving 660.5 million pounds of cargo in the last fiscal year. Four airlines currently service Amazon Air in Lakeland: Atlas Air, ATI International and Airborne Express, all use Boeing 767s, while Sun Country Airlines used Boeing 737s.

But Amazon flights are not the only aircraft flying in and out.  Last year, there were 132,000 total aircraft operations, with 91% general aviation, nearly 10,000 (9%) commercial and 2% military, which includes NOAA. Around 142,000 operations are expected this year, Hallstrand said. The airport has a capacity of nearly 222,500 operations, she said.

She explained that the FAA looks at noise on a day-night average and recognizes impacts when noise reaches 65 Day Night Level or higher at the airport – but not in the surrounding community.

“LAL (the airport code for Lakeland Linder) cannot restrict aircraft operations in accordance with the Airport Noise and Capacity Act of 1990,” Hallstrand’s report to the commission states. “LAL does not have the authority to control aircraft in flight; that is vested exclusively with the FAA.”

See the full presentation here or at the end of this article.

Commissioner Mike Musick asked if there would be any red flags for the FAA this time in using a Polk Parkway approach.

“The process of dealing with the federal government is always complex. As far as seeing the red flags, I think that we have a clear path this time because we have an FAA-certified contractor,” Hallstrand said. “The FAA hires this contractor to do this for them.”

Economic update

Lakeland Linder International Airport is growing, as are the services it provides.

Airport-related operations contribute $1.5 billion to the local economy with its three runways, more than 2 million square feet of leasable commercial space, 24-hour daily air traffic control, a modern instrument landing system, and 65 businesses located in an area larger than four Walt Disney Worlds, Hallstrand said in her update to the commission.

“We were $574 million in economic impact through COVID,” Hallstrand said. “We went to $1.5 billion.”

She said Amazon and Draken International survived and even expanded and were a big part of the increase.

The growth, she explained, is part of a 12-year program that began in 2010 under previous Airport Director Gene Conrad and involved aggressive capital improvement projects and private investments. From 2011-2021, the airport received $63.3 million in Federal Aviation Administration Airport Improvement Program funding. From 2010-2022, it also received $60.6 million in Florida Department of Transportation funding.

All that is being used for everything from Taxiway P reconstruction, Taxiway A shoulder and run-up apron design, and Taxiway E/S, to new hangars, new fix-based operator, and the new Aero Center.

65 business call Lakeland Linder home, employing more than 3,000 people, including:

  • 7 airframe and power plant shops
  • 5 flight schools
  • 3 higher education facilities
  • 1 avionics shop
  • 2 hotels
  • 2 part-135 operators
  • 2 fixed based operators
  • 1 air cargo operator (Amazon), using 4 airlines
  • 1 aircraft paint facility
  • 1 aircraft interior shop
  • 1 DoD contractor: Draken International
  • 1 government aerospace facility: NOAA

The City Commission on Monday approved accepting more than $9 million in additional grants from the FAA and FDOT to complete Taxiways E and S, upgrade to a Category III Instrument Landing System, and the Relocation of Taxiway P.

That project involves shifting approximately 1,500 feet of Taxiway P to the south as the airport relocates the glideslope during the CAT III Instrument Landing System project – one of the most modern systems an airport can have for instrument-rated landings during low visibility conditions like rain and fog. In addition, approximately 2,500 feet of the remaining taxiway will be rehabilitated along with portions of Taxiway F and the SUN ‘n FUN ramp entrance.

“Our primary runway is at 8,500 feet so it’s just a little bit shorter. Amazon’s regional hub — they’re going to be increasing — we call it their 1.5,” Hallstrand said, adding that environmental studies have been done on the project and no significant impact was found. “It’s anticipated to start in February of 23 and taxiway extension is included … We’re extending so that way they can have two access points into their ramp. So they’re creating three more positions and then ground equipment storage on the site.”

She pointed out that Tampa and Orlando International airports have 10,000-11,000-foot runways, but that’s not required for the modern aircraft that fly in and out of Lakeland.

Education opportunities

One large draw Hallstrand is hoping to increase are educational opportunities at the airport, including showing students that aerospace career opportunities are a path to success.

“ACEs High is a program that is for disadvantaged youth in our community that we are trying to get off the ground,” Hallstrand said, noting that she requested the program through Sun ‘n Fun. “It’s a program that should start this fall and the airport is going to help with that, pending approvals. And this will bring disadvantaged youth into our campus and to other airports, to be mentored and shown that aviation is a very good path for them in the future. I’d like to reach into our more diverse communities and be able to do some (more outreach). In this program, there’s transportation built in to get them to  a facility to be able to be mentored and be able to be worked with.”

Hallstrand said the grade point average requirement is a 2.0 — a C, although it was originally written for A-B honor roll students only.

“I was always on the C-honor roll and I’m in aviation and I’ve been in for 20 years and I think that, you know, exposing these young children to it, whether it be flying, whether it be working at an airport as an (operations) specialist or someday running an airport or being a mechanic for the airlines or for general aviation. This is going to give them the exposure directly into aviation and that’s what I was looking for … They have flights that they’re going to take, incentive flights. They’re going to go to, I believe, JetBlue, they’re going to go Epcot, they’re going to go to (Kennedy Space Center). So they’re taking these trips and it’s all incentive based, to keep them coming and keep them working.”

Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley thanked him for trying to attract more students to the airport, saying she was also a solid C student.

Hallstrand said she is hoping to get approval from the City Commission to fund $50,000 for the project, with matching from The Ray Foundation, which also funds programs at Central Florida Aerospace Academy.

She said it would also help feed students into the Central Florida Aerospace Academy at the airport, a program for high school students to help them obtain certifications in airplane mechanics or even become a pilot.

Polk State College and Southeastern University both run flight schools at the airport, but Hallstrand said they have run into an issue with off-campus housing – there isn’t enough and she is looking at building dormitories.

“We have a pretty, pretty big challenge ahead of us is to try to figure out how we get some dormitories built for all the college students to go to Polk State College and Southern University,” Hallstrand said. “These schools and even Kingsky Flight Academy is having issues, as well, with finding places to host their students. Some students get turned away, even the college program, because there’s no affordable housing anywhere near that they can rent. So what we’re working on is doing (a request for quote) and see if we have an interested party that would like to come invest in doing some non-aviation development on our very southeast corner.”

New and upcoming

Other developments in the works include:

  • A third hotel on property
  • Additional corporate hangars
  • Elevate Incubator – for logistics and aviation businesses to start at the airport with low-cost offices
  • Flying Classroom – a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Program with Polk County Public Schools

Commissioner Chad McLeod reminded his colleagues and those in the audience that a new restaurant is now open in the airport terminal and encouraged everyone to try Waco Kitchen. Then he asked Hallstrand what she wants people to know about Lakeland Linder.

“I wish that people would realize the diverse group of businesses that we have on the airport and the value that we bring to the community with employment. We have a lot of high-skill, high-wage jobs on the airport,” Hallstrand said. “The biggest thing I’d like people to know, at least, if I was able to say something to every citizen in the community, mine would be is, “We hear you. We’re working diligently to serve you and that, whether it be air service or noise, you know, we’re in front of it. We’re staying ahead of it as fast as we can and as hard as we can.”

Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native.  She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.