CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County's newly hired airports director, Sunil Harman, wants to encourage growth around the region's longest runway, which currently is "sleepy,” he says.


CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County's newly hired airports director, Sunil Harman, wants to encourage growth around the region's longest runway, which currently is "sleepy,” he says.



Three intersecting necessities will help Bob Sikes Airport grow, he says.



First is having a vision for the airport. Second is for local leaders to articulate that vision to the community.



"The third most important thing is there has to be a political will to do it," Harman said during the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce Airport Committee’s Aug. 22 meeting. "When those three things converge, you have successful program."



City, county and business community representatives, and airport tenants who attended the meeting agreed that providing better access to the airport is essential for growth.



More access needed



"We may have mentioned a time or two about the roads around here," chamber of commerce President Dennis Mitchell said, evoking laughter because poor airport access is an ongoing, frequently discussed concern.



Construction of Foy Shaw Industrial Parkway, a planned access road from U.S. Highway 90, was stymied when hoped-for grant funding was denied. Harman said it shouldn't be up to the airport to build the road.



"Rather than us airport guys worry about building a roadway, we have the Public Works guys," he said. "Go! Design! Build! It's a simple project."



Harman advocated paving Fairchild Road south from Airport Road, possibly straightening it so it doesn't curve along the airport’s east side.



These and future projects, which might include a rail spur to the CSX railroad line and a truck route with interchange to Interstate 10, could attract parts companies seeking to supply the new Airbus plant in Mobile, Ala.



'A sleepy place'



Harman cautions that improvements must be justified by a higher level of activity.



"The Field of Dreams 'build it and they will come’ (ideal) — I don't believe in that," Harman said. "If it's a legitimate need, we'll make it part of our program."



Bob Sikes Airport currently is not busy enough to justify much more infrastructure improvement than the more than $7 million in recent runway, taxiways and stormwater runoff improvements.



"I looked at your airport," Harman said. "It's a sleepy place. I can meander across the runway without worrying about getting hit by a plane."



Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or brianh@crestviewbulletin.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.