By Rich Pollack
President Donald Trump’s repeated visits to South Florida have been characterized as disruptive to many local travelers and as detrimental to a few local businesses.
For the Boca Raton Airport and some surrounding restaurants and hotels, however, the frequent flights to Palm Beach by Air Force One have a silver lining.
Revenues at Boca Raton Airport, based in part on the amount of fuel sold by two aviation companies, skyrocketed in 2017 as business jets that usually would land at Palm Beach International Airport went south while the president visited Mar-a-Lago rather than go through additional security screenings.
“Our fuel-flow revenues last year were $130,000 over budget,” said Airport Authority Executive Director Clara Bennett. Helping to drive up that number was a weeklong presidential visit between Christmas and New Year’s Day that pushed fuel sales at the airport to record levels.
Jet fuel delivered in December, according to airport statistics, climbed more than 57 percent, rising to about 886,000 gallons, compared with 562,156 gallons in December 2016.
At the same time, airport fuel revenue jumped from about $49,000 in December 2016 to about $93,300 during the same time last year.
The airport receives 5 percent of the cost of fuel delivered to the two contracted fixed-base operators — or FBOs — that lease space on the airport grounds and provide aviation services, including fueling.
Bennett said the combination of planes coming to Boca Raton during the presidential visit and regular heavy traffic during the holiday week resulted in an usually high number of air-traffic operations.
“It was like a perfect storm,” she said. “It was high season and there were temporary flight restrictions for an extended time.”
However, a few challenges arose with so many jets visiting the small general aviation airport.
“There were a couple of times when the [operators] were running out of space for overnight parking,” Bennett said.
The airport has enough parking for about 100 planes.
In some cases flight crews dropped off passengers and flew to the state’s west coast, where they found parking and waited until they were called back, according to Bennett.
Because of temporary flight restrictions within a 10-mile radius of Mar-a-Lago, general aviation aircraft are unable to land at the Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana, the county airport in Palm Beach Gardens or at Palm Beach International Airport without additional security screenings in either Orlando or Hollywood.
Scott Kohut, Boca Raton Airport’s deputy director, said that while many passengers left to go to Palm Beach or other nearby locations, some flight crews — sometimes two or three people — stayed locally. That, he said, was good for area businesses.
“There were a lot of people flying in and parking for an extended time,” he said.
Kohut said that at least one local restaurant owner has told him of an increase in business when flight restrictions are in place.
In addition to heavy traffic during the holiday week, the airport saw increases in flight operations year-over-year during the Thanksgiving weekend and last month’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day extended holiday weekend.
Bennett said in addition to the direct benefits to local businesses, there is an indirect benefit of people who may not have been to the area getting to know a little bit about it.
“It’s certainly a way to promote Boca Raton,” she said.