What’s happening at The Key West Airport

Donald DeGraw Director Of Key West Airports has a lot of pride in the vast improvements at the Key West International airport, and deservedly so. Key West may have the smallest runway in the country for commercial airlines (4,801 feet to be exact) but EYW does big business, and does it well.  Usually a small airport would sit on 1,000 acres. But settled on a cozy 334, the Key West Airport accommodates almost a million passenger a year with a 98 percent approval rating according to feedback. Despite Delta’s emergency this week when the flight crew noticed something unusual during preflight and de-boarded the plane, things run fairly smoothly at the little airport. Taking a tour of EYW with Director DeGraw, there is a lot to learn and a lot happening in the future.

DeGraw holds a degree in aeronautical studies/management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and has been in the airport business for more than 20 years. Leaving behind snow filled runways in Vermont, Yellowstone, and New York’s JFK, DeGraw began as assistant Director in 2013 and became full director when Peter Horton retired in January 2015. “I am really happy how we listen to our customers. We are constantly improving and making adjustments, and the vast majority of our feedback is positive. Even our TSA [screen point] has little to no waiting time.” Not many airport directors can tout that!

So why is EYW so different, Director DeGraw was more than happy to answer.

What about over booking? Is that a big issue for EYW?  Yes, it happens, flights run full, but generally, passengers will accept a voucher. The average is around a $1,000. But it’s never really been a big issue … who doesn’t want to stay a little longer in Key West?

The recent Chicago incident involving the police, could you see that happening here? No, our law enforcement officers are so in tune with our customers, they really understand people. I don’t think that would ever be an issue for us.

Tuesday’s scare with the Delta flight, it seemed to be under control fairly quickly. Is that right? The airport and its law enforcement partners worked together flawlessly and cleared to the flight for take off when the aircraft and passengers were re-screened.

Who monitors the airfield? How many arrests a year? The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department is always on hand. Luckily very few arrest a year, mostly if it is just trespassing or someone causing a disturbance; not passengers usually. In January, we had an incident when a woman tried to conceal a weapon (a boxcutter) in a book, that was pretty out of the ordinary.

How many emergencies a month? There’s usually about three — minor things like smoke, landing gear mal-functions or just flat tires. We just had a Cessna land with only one engine working, but that went smoothly.

How many EMS calls a year? About 100. Again, mostly minor things; often escalator mishaps because we have the only one in the Keys.

How much lost luggage? (laughing) Well, that rarely happens unless someone forgot to put the bag on the plane somewhere else. But around here, it doesn’t have far to go.

What’s planned for EYW? Right now we are replacing the ramp’s asphalt (the area where the commercial airlines load and unload) with concrete. It is a $10 million project (90 percent from federal government, 5 percent from the state, and 5 percent from passenger fees) which will provide a better surface for aircraft and reduce puddling that passengers sometimes have to traverse. It is being done in sections, at night, and will take a year to complete. Also, we are entering phase 2 of a drainage project for flooding that costs $1 million. Eventually, we will resurface the runway and are looking to add 200 feet.

There has been talk of moving the airport to Boca Chica. Will that ever happen? Yes, since the 1990’s there has been that discussion. This airport sits at an elevation of 3 feet and Boca Chica is at 7 feet. If water levels keep rising, we don’t want to find ourselves in a crisis situation. We have about 40 percent of a master plan in place. 

Will low-cost carriers like Southwest come back to EYW? I am consistently trying to increase competition and good rates. The problem is only a handful of those carriers can operate on our runway. Southwest has no interest at this time.

Will Uber or Lyft coming to Key West affect EYW? We will follow suit with whatever the City of Key West decides, but there will always be a taxi stand.

What passenger improvements are happening? Everyone is loving the “Mamava,” a private pod area for nursing mothers. The Arts Council provides new artwork consistently. There are charging stations in the passenger waiting area and, soon, there will be new chairs with actual work stations for laptop users. We worked with the Audubon Society to stripe the passenger tunnel windows to prevent bird strikes and are working on a “pet relief” area. The downstairs food and beverage area is expanding. And lastly, a volunteer-operated welcoming center at the luggage carousel helps with travelers’ questions when they arrive.  

Last question. Why is that truck always zooming down the runway with its lights flashing? It’s just to scare the birds away.

How many passengers*?

2,200 a day

800,000 a year

(*estimated)

91,000

The number of passengers in March 2017. The second highest was March of 2017 with 84,481. There were more, however, when Southwest airlines was operating from EYW.

200

Number of airport employees, six are air traffic controllers.

15

Number of businesses operating at the airport.

4

Four major airlines include Delta, American, United, and Silver.

55,000

Number of take-offs/ landings in one year. Two thirds are general aviation and one-third are commercial.

3

Number of international flights; flights are bound for Cuba with 9 passengers aboard.

500

Passengers clear customs every year.

Always great to see the smiling faces when people land, so happy when they get here and always say, Do I have to leave?” -Murray Cox, Monroe County Sheriff’s runway patrol.

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