FORT PIERCE, Fla. — If you live on the Treasure Coast, you're probably traveling pretty far to hop on a major flight.
Pretty soon, that could change, though. St. Lucie County officials say they submitted an application to the Federal Aviation Administration to allow commercial flights to travel in and out of Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce.
"The County Board of Commissioners have been really leaning in over the years in bringing commercial air to St. Lucie County," County Administrator George Landry said.
The airport currently handles private and charter flights and has a flight training school. It's considered an international airport because of its U.S. customs facility.
Landry said the county already has had pre-meetings and pre-inspections with the FAA, and are working toward the final inspection.
Landry said a big driver for bringing commercial air to the Treasure Coast is related to the economy.
"I think it would be a great boost for the county in a tourism aspect and for our businesses if we can start attracting folks from other parts of the country," Landry said.
Charlotte Bireley, director of St. Lucie County's Tourist Development Council, said in 2017 that 1.2 million people visited the county. This year, the TDC is working on another study, but Bireley said the number of tourists is going up. She said the number would likely multiply even more with commercial air, boosting St. Lucie County's economy.
"They’re purchasing services and products in our destination, they're paying for overnight accommodations, eating at our restaurants, and all of that adds to our economic impact," Bireley said.
One of those businesses to benefit is Old Florida Coffee Company in downtown Fort Pierce. Its owner, Dan Pennell, said even though his local customers are his backbone, the coffee shop also depends on out-of-town visitors.
"Starting in about November we all really count on that wave of tourists," Pennell said. "That would be fabulous for the local businesses."
It's not just business that's expected to propel forward, however. As Landry pointed out, most residents in the county have to travel to West Palm Beach or Orlando for a commercial flight.
"It would be a great benefit for our folks to only drive a few minutes to the county airport," Landry said.
"And I have a company here where our employees fly," Pennell added. "It would certainly be a benefit to fly out of Fort Pierce.
Airport Director Cameron Howard said he's already been working with the FAA to bring the airport up to commercial standards, including hiring more staff and tarmac maintenance.
"We’re going through that process now," Howard said.
Now, county officials are waiting for the FAA's official go-ahead.
Landry said he believes that will take about three to six months.