Florida Airports Assess Hurricane Ian Damage (Updated)


As of 6 pm on Thursday (Sept. 29), Florida officials had reported nine deaths directly attributed to Hurricane Ian, widely cited as among the five worst storms in the state’s history. Not unexpectedly, most were on the west coast of the state, which took the brunt of the Category 4 storm’s landfall.

Airports in harm’s way suffered varying degrees of damage. The worst devastation, which occurred at Miami-area North Perry Airport, ironically came not from the hurricane, per se, but rather from a tornado spawned by convective bands associated with the widespread storm system. Airports on the west coast placed their primary focus on support for emergency and humanitarian operations.

Starting with the Fort Myers area, which topped most news for the violence of the storm damage, the three airports that serve the area include Southwest Florida International (KRSW), GA-centric Page Field (KFMY) and Punta Gorda (KPGD). As of Thursday evening, KRSW remains closed, with operations expected to restart on Oct. 7. No aircraft were reported damaged. Likewise, no aircraft were damaged at KFMY. The airport remains closed to GA operations, but Vicki Moreland, chief communications and marketing officer, told AVweb the reason was the focus on supporting emergency and humanitarian flights. She also cited the lack of electric power and potable water, adding that the Lee County government website was providing timely updates on the status of countywide infrastructure repairs.

The person who answered the phone at Punta Gorda Airport told AVweb the airport infrastructure was in good shape and open to GA operations, though most activity over the past few days has involved military and emergency operations. He referred further questions about aircraft and infrastructure damage to the airport’s communications officer, who (understandably) did not answer a phone message as of press time.

The website associated with Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (KSRQ) reported that personnel were “assessing damage and making repairs,” adding that operations were expected to restart at 8:00 pm Thursday evening (Sept. 29). Meanwhile, at Naples, which suffered among the most devastating flooding associated with Hurricane Ian, the concise phone message at Naples Municipal Airport (KAPF) reported that the airport will remain closed “until further notice,” adding, “Do not drive to the airport.”

Photo: Dave Wimberly

Venice Airport, situated on the Gulf between Sarasota and Ft. Myers, suffered significant damage to GA T-hangars, although the damage wasn’t as extensive as originally feared. Despite being in the eyewall of Ian for several hours, there was no sign of flooding, probably because the wind in the northern portion of the storm was out of the east, driving the water out of the bays and tributaries rather than into low-lying land. Several rows of hangars were heavily damaged and some were destroyed, according to photos of the airport. Some aircraft were still inside the structures, but it’s not known if they were damaged by missile hits from debris. According to NWS AWOS data, the peak wind at Venice was 82 MPH at 3:25 p.m. Wednesday as the storm made landfall farther south near Cape Coral. Sarasota had 77 MPH, Punta Gorda to the south had 109 MPH and Ft. Myers had 92 MPH.

Some aircraft at Venice were heavily damaged or destroyed, although the total isn’t known. There was no apparent flooding. The airport borders both the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway. Dan Gulandri, maintenance manager for Sarasota Avionics [located at KVNC], told AVweb that both of the company’s hangars survived the storm, although one had minor damage and water intrusion. AVweb’s Paul Bertorelli, who bases a J-3 at Venice, reported that the hangar and airplane appeared to be undamaged, although one hangar at the end of the same row was heavily damaged. As of Friday morning, the airport remained closed and a TFR is in effect for the area.

This story will be updated as more information comes in.

Paul Bertorelli contributed to this report.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. Glad to hear that Paul is okay – prayers to everyone affected in Florida who has been impacted by this major storm. Thanks for the reporting.

  2. Paul was smart enough to fly his airplane out, we assume. Why weren’t all these other pilots? They had several days’ notice. If a hurricane were headed within 1,000 miles, I’d fly my plane to another state, far enough away not to worry about it. The U.S. has over 5,000 airports; you can always find a safe tiedown somewhere. Sure, I understand a few people can’t because they are out of town, too busy, or the plane can’t be flown. But it looks like way too many people just leave their aircraft in harm’s way and hope for the best. And then everybody else has to pay the insurance costs.

    • Christy, where do you live? I’m based at F45 in south Florida. The tornado that hit HOW was 200 miles away from the hurricane. Over 50% of the population of the USA live within 1000 miles of F45. Within 1000 miles of F45 is Boston, Chicago, Tulsa, Dallas, Costa Rico, Columbia. Nearly 100% of all trop storms and hurricanes are within 1000 miles of F45. I would be moving 10 times per year. Having spent 32 years owning aircraft in North Carolina and Florida, it takes a much more nuanced decision on when to move an aircraft. Many times I’ve made the decision to keep my plane in a solid hanger rather than move the aircraft and tie it down. I doubt if anyone on the NY metro area moved their plane when Ian was within 1000 miles of them.

    • I did not fly out. With a 65 MPH airplane, there’s usually no practical way to do it because of the distances involved. And then getting back to weather the storm or take a dog and wife in the airplane to weather it somewhere else.

      Not a player for me this time. If I had a Cirrus…

      • Avweb ain’t paying you enough then … esp. given the quality of what you produce. They should GIVE you one. Glad you’re safe.

      • Paul, we are glad to hear that both you and the Cub are okay. I’m sorry for all those owners that lost planes across the state, but, as you say, the decision on whether to leave or not is often difficult. These storms are always unpredictable and a change in course of even a few degrees can make a huge difference in their damage potential for your area. Florida is particularly challenging in that regard, being long and narrow. For you to escape the path would mean flying all the way up to Georgia or even Alabama to be sure of avoiding any damage. Here on the Texas Gulf Coast, we are no strangers to hurricanes, but at least we have lots of options as to where a safe haven would be to escape a storm. Hope your home and family are okay as well.

    • Crista, as one who lost an airplane in a hurricane (H. Fran T-boned KRDU in 1996) I know that unless I have a very fast plane, I cannot “just fly my plane to another state”. Sure, the forecasts are getting better, but do you remember all the spaghetti-plots being depicted three days out? They showed potential paths that were pretty-much all over the eastern seaboard of the US. Those plots were of the eye of the hurricane; dangerously high winds extend for quite a few miles on all sides. Up here in NC, I can go only so far east (Kitty Hawk) and with potential paths as far west as mid-Tennessee, I’d have to relocate to Memphis to be confident of finding safety.

      Paul is in the neck of the funnel, being feet-wet as soon as he lifts-off to the west, ditto (and still well within the noodles) an hour or so to the east, and looking at _days_ of flying in any northerly direction to find “safety”.

      My plane is undergoing its annual in my hangar with all fairings, inspection plates, and prop off, so relocation was not an option. It is still safe and dry.

      We both made the best choice.

    • Crista,

      Your ignorance is understandable.

      With only about 48 hours to get clear, things get prioritized. Family and pets come first. Then prepping the house. Next is determining the things you don’t want to lose and getting those loaded up. Finally, finding a place to go. Trust me, all of that takes at least a day. Now it’s only 24 hours until it hits. If the weather is good (which it usually isn’t by then), you can hop in the plane (leaving your spouse to handle driving everyone and everything else out of the target zone) and fly… somewhere. Hopefully you’ve got something that can fly faster than 120kts. Because even though the hurricane isn’t that fast, its reach is long. And Florida is only about 100 miles across. So unless you’re okay flying over the Atlantic in a single engine aircraft, you have to hope the weather doesn’t worsen. One of the planes at N Perry was flown there to get out of the forecast path. Half the planes destroyed at F95 during Michael in 2018 were there to escape the forecast path.

      So it’s just not as simple as “flying to another state”. At the end of it, you would realize that an airplane is a replaceable object. And this is coming from a person who spent 8 years building an airplane. And I gave it absolutely ZERO thought when Michael was approaching.

      So keep your armchair quarterbacking opinions to yourself.

  3. In 1992 I flew on of my planes (KHWO based) to KMEZ in an attempt to avoid Hurricane Andrew. This was in the late evening before landfall. During the night, the storm turned East and hit Homestead, sparing KHWO, and the city of Hollywood. I never moved another of my aircraft over the next 30 years. I avoided storms all over Florida, just by dumb luck. My plane was moved to KFPR late last year, so I missed again…
    The best reason to move your plane for a hurricane is in response to an evacuation order, in order to save lives. Plan on at least a 300 mile flight, in a northerly direction, and then land to assess the next move. Also be aware that you may not be able to return to your home base by personal plane or even airline, when you want to.