VERO BEACH — Breeze Airways aims to begin flying here Feb. 2, and with its service, airport officials are already looking toward expanding passenger facilities. And it could cost flyers more.
Breeze confirmed Oct. 19 it would offer passenger service to Vero Beach Regional Airport, filling the gap after Elite Airways spanbruptly cspannceled its service here last year. To prepare for Breeze, the airport had to expand its Transportation Security Administration security, and depending on the popularity of the airline’s service, more costly expansions — such as larger passenger facilities or more parking — may be necessary in the future.
To pay for expansions, officials are weighing new revenue streams, said Airport Director Todd Scher. One possibility: paid parking, according to an update airport officials gave the City Council Tuesday. The idea is still up in the air, Scher said.
Analyzing airport parking
“We just have to wait and see if people actually park their cars here,” Scher said. “Are we going to have to build more parking lots? Again, that’s a numbers-driven paradigm. You’ve got to have a certain number of cars that are going to be paying you to park before it’s feasible to start charging for parking.”
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It’s too early to say when — or if at all — paid parking would be implemented, or how much it could cost, Scher said. But the airport’s consultants have indicated more parking will likely be necessary, he said.
“And so we’re looking already at costs, locations, things like that,” he said. “But again, I’m not really sure what the goal per number of parking spots would be for us to charge for car parking.”
But he acknowledged the popularity of the already-free parking. It’s a benefit the airport will have to weigh when it makes a decision, he said.
“One of the things we have to keep in mind is that free parking is one of the benefits to flying in and out of Vero Beach,” he said. “So if we start charging for car parking, we need to make sure that we’re not going to lose passengers who only fly out of Vero Beach because it’s free.”
Another possibility for revenue: A service fee for departing travelers, which could be about $4.50 per passenger, according to city documents. Scher said it would only be implemented if Breeze’s service reaches about 20,000 departing passengers per year.
“I’m pretty confident that they will,” he said. “So if they end up with that many [departures], then it’s worth our while to start collecting those things.”
For now, the airport is studying both potential sources of new revenue, and will reevaluate throughout the year to decide if Breeze service is popular enough to warrant expansions, and if these fees should be imposed to fund them.
Parking and passenger facility expansions would be eligible for up to 80% grant matches from the Florida Department of Transportation. Plus, Breeze’s service provides revenue in other ways: It pays monthly service fees, and the airport will see a boost in fuel sales when Breeze aircraft begin gassing up here.
The airport already is feeling some of the “growing pains” from the impending arrival of Breeze passenger service, City Manager Monte Falls said Tuesday. For instance, baggage check-in and baggage claim will be done under tents outside the terminal building the first few months of its service.
Airport growing pains
Breeze planes are larger — they hold 118-126 pspanssengers compared to Elite’s 60 passengers — and there will be less time between departing and arriving flights, Scher said, meaning more passengers inside the airport at a time.
“We’ll have that quaint experience for the first few months,” Falls said. “We look forward to Breeze here as our partner. Todd and his staff have worked hard to get them here, and I know our community is anxious to have a carrier providing service here.”
Breeze Airways is a Utah-based airline founded in 2021. The airline initially will fly from Vero Beach to Hartford, Connecticut; Westchester, New York; and Norfolk, Virginia.