SARASOTA, FL (WFLA) – As NOAA begins the search for a new home for its famed Hurricane Hunter aircraft, Sarasota wants to welcome them with open arms. The federal agency is exploring options throughout Tampa Bay, and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport wants to be considered.
The aircraft will have to be out of MacDill Air Force base by July 2017. President Rick Piccolo of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport says he wants his facility in the running. Piccolo said, “We’re part of the Tampa Bay region, so we had an interest to begin with.”
This week, NOAA released a solicitation, looking for hangar space in the Tampa Bay area. The requirements include having enough room for their nine aircraft, a long enough runway, and it must be within 50 miles of MacDill AFB.
Piccolo says Sarasota-Bradenton International fits the bill. It has facilities on site, and they have plenty of space to build new hangers if needed. This bid means more jobs to the area and more revenue for the airport. He said, “We just want to get our hat in the ring and see if we can meet their needs and if we’re able to come to some sort of agreement.”
They’re not alone. Lakeland Linder airport and St. Pete/ Clearwater airport have expressed interest in the contract too.
Senator Bill Nelson is happy to see NOAA stay in the area. He said, “Keeping NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters in Tampa Bay is simply the right thing to do. Moving them anywhere else would be highly disruptive to an agency charged with such an important mission.”
Airports that are interested have until April 20 to reach out to NOAA. The agency expects to have the decision made and a lease signed by January 2017. NOAA has said this lease will be for a temporary home, and the contract will not exceed 10 years.
David Hall, a spokesman for NOAA said in a statement, “Under federal procurement policies, NOAA must not disclose who is responding, or which airport will serve as [the Hurricane Hunters’] short-term home until a lease is signed.”
Piccolo is excited over the prospect of a tenant like NOAA. He said, “It’s a win win win for the airport, there’s no downside there.”
This summer NOAA will begin a nationwide search to see where the hurricane hunters will be placed permanently.
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