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Construction of Amazon’s $100 million air cargo facility at Lakeland Linder Airport will be finished by the end of the month and the online retail giant will begin operating it at the start of July, the airport director said today.
Gene Conrad made the comments to the City Commission as they were discussing a step in the ongoing project to upgrade the airport’s instrument landing system from category 1 to category 3, putting it on par with systems at major airport like Tampa’s and Orlando’s.
The upgrade to “cat 2” is complete, as required under the city’s contract with Amazon, Conrad said. When cat 3 is complete around November 2021, pilots will be able to land at Lakeland Linder in “zero zero visibility,” Conrad said.
Construction started just last July after the city signed a 50-year deal to lease 47 acres to Amazon one year ago this week. Amazon said the 223,000-square-foot sorting facility will produce 800 to 1,000 jobs.
The company expects to receive $225,000 in incentives for creating 75 new jobs paying at least $47,204, which is 115 percent of Polk County’s average annual wage.
The Lakeland facility opens as Amazon closes a similar operation at Tampa International Airport, where there was insufficient room to expand.
When the facility was approved last year, Conrad told commissioners to expect eight to 10 cargo flights a day.
Commissioners on Monday will be asked to approve a professional services agreement with two companies under continuing contract with the city: Environmental Science and Associates of Orlando to create an environmental analysis and Atkins North America of Tampa to complete the design of the cat 3 system.
Funding — $70,340 for Environmental Science and up to $767,365 for Atkins — is covered by Florida Department of Transportation grants and requires no city appropriations, City Manager Tony Delgado said.
During commission discussion, Mayor Bill Mutz asked Conrad for an update on efforts to bring commercial airline service to Lakeland.
Prospects for a major carrier have been pushed back several years, considering the commercial airline industry has been “devastated” by the impacts of COVID-19, Conrad said.
Passenger traffic went from 2.5 million a day to 80,000 and now stands at about 180,000 he said.
For now, Lakeland’s best hope for passenger service would be with a low-cost carrier or a startup, he said. They may be attracted by lower costs of operating from Lakeland than Tampa or Orlando, he said.
Asked about charter service by Commissioner Sara Roberts McCarley, Conrad said, “We’ve seen an uptick in people looking for personal aircraft to rent and get where they need to go.”
Commissioner Bill Read asked about the status of Griff Aviation, which announced in April 2017 it would set up shop at Lakeland Linder and build large drone aircraft.
There was an embarrassed silence after Conrad said they left town about 18 months ago.
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