The county commission on Monday very quietly changed the name of the nearly 70-year-old Flagler County Airport to Flagler Executive Airport, making it at least the fifth name that the facility has known in its history. There was no discussion about the change, which was included on the consent portion of the commission’s agenda, where numerous matters are approved in bulk.
The renaming, County Administrator Craig Coffey said today, is part of a re-branding effort that underscores a series of improvements and upgrades in and around the airport as the facility strives to distinguish itself away from its rural history.
“We sound a little like Podunk, saying Flagler County Airport, there’s no zip to it, there’s no tone, no branding to it,” Coffey said. The name change will be carried out without ceremony. A new logo for the airport is in the works but hasn’t been designed yet. It’s likely to feature a shark’s fin, to echo the airport’s new technical designation in the federal government’s eyes. The new name and logo will start appearing in marketing materials as the county amplifies the airport’s visibility in the near future.
Last November, the Federal Aviation Administration changed the airport’s code identifier from KXFL to KFIN. That, too, spurred a change in the name. Those codes can be beguiling to most people. Not to pilots, who know that the X means that the airport is “a rural, out-of-the-way airport that may not provide adequate aircraft services,” Roy Sieger, the airport director, wrote in a memo to commissioners ahead of the vote. By dropping the X, the airport signals that it is no longer in a rural community. “The name change to Flagler Executive Airport is indicative of the transition to serving more corporate tenants and visitors and the expansion of the airport and the services,” Sieger wrote.
The airport has been in the midst of a $22 million capital improvement spree since 2009 that has seen it turn into an increasingly busy commercial hub—there are 26 businesses operating out of the complex–and is soon to add manufacturing in the mix as Aveo Engineering, the airline lighting component company, breaks ground on its plant at the south end of the airport. Construction elsewhere on the grounds includes a new control tower and rehabilitated taxiways and runways, and the county’s acquisition last month of several buildings and hangars on the property.
Going “executive” in no way will diminish the airport’s marketing and appeal to non-professional fliers, Coffey said, as the airport is very popular with recreational pilots—and with students. The new hangars the county just bought “are all about recreational fliers,” the administrator said, but the appeal will also extend to “corporate people who build jobs.” Then there’s the military component, which accounts for about 5 percent of the airport’s 170,000 annual take-offs and landings.
The field started life as a World War II military facility called Naval Outlying Field Bunnell. After the war the federal government donated the airport to county government as surplus military property.
It was called Bunnell Airport for many years after that, though that may have been its informal name: historical records also point to another designation, Bulow Satellite Airfield. It’s unclear whether the airport was in use at the time: a 1957 Panama City newspaper article about a hot rod team noted that they “test their hot rods on an abandoned airplane landing strip at the Bunnell Airport.” The following year the Associated Press was reporting a Department of Environmental Regulation fine against Flagler County government “for pollution violations at the Bunnell Airport dump, and ordered it closed.”
The airport was also apparently a dwelling place for local laborers: a 1958 Associated Press story reported on the killing of two people at the airport, “the outgrowth of labor troubles at the Lehigh Portland Cement plant” off of what today is Colbert Lane. Then-County Judge Duane Deen reported that “the trouble had flared when a group of men went to a trailer at the old airport where one of the victims had lived. Two pistols and a shotgun were found at the shooting scene.”
In 1961, the county commission asked for bids to lease the airport, when it was still called Bunnell Airport. Sometime between then and the 1970s, the airport became known as Flagler County Airport—as was the case when it made national news on April 6, 1975, during what was then called the Sunny Days Festival Airshow that was hosted at the airport. That day, Dominic Giandomenico, a 24-year-old resident of Boca Raton and aerial performer, dropped to his death as he was attempting to climb up a ladder and into a plane, from a car.