Airglades Airport update meeting set Sept. 16

LABELLE — Some discussion came up at the last Hendry County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Aug. 27 regarding upcoming developments surrounding Airglades Airport’s conversion into a privately owned facility.

District 1 representative Emma Byrd announced during the commissioners’ comments portion of the meeting that there would be a community meeting Monday, Sept. 9, in Harlem concerning the airport.

Now, however, due to the lingering uncertainty about whether Hurricane Dorian would have any effects in the region, it has been rescheduled like many other local events. Ms. Byrd said Sept. 5 that the session has been set back until the following Monday, Sept. 16.

This is timely as airport officials just gave a similar informational update in August for Clewiston Chamber of Commerce members, telling them that the Federal Aviation Administration and Florida Department of Transportation had declared Airglades International Airport LLC’s application to purchase the airport from Hendry County to be “substantially complete.” That action was published in the Federal Register Aug. 21, and the application is now in the 30-day public comment period.

AIA LLC will develop it, along with major investors including importers and exporters such as South Florida sugar growers and other local and international agricultural interests, into a hub for perishable and other air cargo destined for Central and South America, and vice versa. The Clewiston air cargo facility is meant to relieve traffic bottlenecks at Miami International Airport and has been in planning stages for more than 10 years now.

Ms. Byrd said, “I will send you guys a flier. It’s about the training that needs to come in” to the region to support the labor necessary for the airport and cargo facility.

Commissioner Michael Swindle had some news of his own to relate.

“Along those same lines,” he told commissioners and their audience at the county courthouse in LaBelle that night, “one of the things that I’m working on now, on the forefront of my day job, is trying to create the aura of an aviation community” in Hendry County.

“We’ve got obviously one of potentially the largest airport transactions of our era and it’s going to happen here in our county,” he said. AIA LLC’s takeover of the publicly owned airport is the first in the United States to come to fruition under an FAA pilot program established in the 2000s.

Mr. Swindle, who is stepping down next fall to run for Hendry County schools superintendent, currently works as the Hendry County School District’s director of workforce development and adult education.

“And so what I’m working on is ‘How do we create the aura of an aviation community?’ — not just an airport that happens to be in our county. And so we’re working on doing some things like maybe some FAA ground school in our school systems, where students can get their FAA ground school out of the way.”

Mr. Swindle said they were examining the possibilities of doing “other things that go along with that — logistics — and then as time progresses and we see what other players come into the picture, maybe we’ll have the opportunity to do some avionics training, AMP (aviation maintenance professional) trainings and things like that within our own school system.

“So we’re looking at that to add to our portfolio of workforce development as … we unfold what happens. Just a heads-up,” he told the audience.

As for the meeting Sept. 16, it will take place at the Harlem Civic Center, 2000 Seventh St. in Clewiston, starting at 6 p.m.

Speakers will include Hendry County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Hoots; Commissioner Swindle, representing the school district; and Keitha Daniels, executive director of the Hendry County Economic Development Council.

Other agencies to give presentations, in addition to AIA LLC officials, are the Southwest Florida Workforce Development Board, Joseph Project 863 and the U.S. Census Bureau.

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