Although many people probably remain unaware, 2017 was a year of big changes for the airports in Carrabelle and Apalachicola.

Both landing fields were constructed in World War II and have received increasing attention from county and municipal government as the area seeks to broaden its economic base.

An economic development study focusing on Apalachicola Regional Airport was presented at the April 18 county commission meeting by Beth Kirkland, a consultant for BRPH Architects-Engineers, Inc., an international architecture and engineering firm based in Melbourne.

Avcon, the county’s airport engineering consultant arranged for the study, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Kirkland’s PowerPoint offered suggestions for boosting economic development at the airport that touched on topics including creating trails for off-road vehicles; pitching the airport as a film venue and a skydiving school.

Kirkland said improvements to lighting and drainage and a planned commercial access road would increase the value of the airport, the only Panhandle facility with three runways each more than 5,000 feet long. Kirkland suggested one runway could be extended to 8,000 feet in length.

Later in the spring, FDOT shut down one of the runways that failed to pass inspection, saying the airport didn’t attract sufficient business to justify maintaining all three landing strips.

In September, county commissioners disbanded the advisory board for the Apalachicola airport, after county staff said the board failed to meet sufficiently often.

Later in the month commissioners replaced fixed base operator (FBO) Crystal Air of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which managed the airport since 2012, with Centric Aviation of New Jersey. Like Crystal Air, Centric signed a five year lease with the county.

Only Crystal Air and Centric responded to a May call for bids for the FBO. Jason Puckett, airport manager, recommended signing a contract with Centric.

Carrabelle’s Thompson Field changed leadership in 2016, ousting long term manager Mark Nobles in favor of retired pilot Tim Sullivan of Alligator Point. As part of publicity push, during Camp Gordon Johnston Days Sullivan organized the premier Carrabelle-Fly-in, which drew several hundred attendees to Thompson Field.

Sullivan said the fly-in attracted 37 small planes, mostly from Dothan, Alabama, south Georgia and central Florida. In addition there were seven planes on display. The Franklin County Tourist Development Council provided $10,000 in start-up funding for the fly-in.

″(The fly-in) really exceeded our expectations by quite a bit,” Sullivan said.

Nobles continues to seek back salary for the six years he worked at Carrabelle’s airport.

At the Dec. 7 Carrabelle city meeting, City Attorney Dan Hartman said he had received communication that Nobles wanted to collect $36,750 back pay he failed to collect when employed by the city. “We’re not in litigation but that’s where we’re headed,” said Hartman.

The city contends Nobles owes the airport money for back rent on a hangar, but how much is unclear. City commissioners plan to hold a closed door meeting with Hartman to discuss Nobles’ claim after the first of the year.