LAKELAND, Fla. — The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has signed a lease vowing to stay at the Lakeland Linder International Airport for the next 20 years.
Many factors, including how the airmen are treated, went into the decision. Between the civilians, space and accommodations, NOAA tells ABC Action News it’s the perfect place to operate out of.
“We are treated like royalty on the air field,” Commander Christian Sloan with NOAA said.
NOAA’s current fleet of nine data-collecting aircraft includes three Hurricane Hunters — all of which have been at the Lakeland facility since 2017.
Under the new 20-year lease the airport will be working with NOAA to expand its space from 99,000 square feet to 156,043 square feet. A more than $12 million project which will be complete by February 2021.
“With an expanded facility in Lakeland, our highly-skilled NOAA Aircraft Operations Center team and the aircraft they operate, manage and maintain will be better able to support NOAA and the nation,” said Rear Adm. Michael J. Silah, director of the NOAA Commissioned Officer Corps and NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. “This agreement also solidifies our long-term commitment to Lakeland.”
Airport Director Gene Conrad stated, "We are extremely grateful to NOAA leadership for their continued belief in Lakeland Linder International Airport. Our community and airport are proud of the mission that the NOAA AOC team performs on a year round basis, and we look forward to supporting them in that mission for the next 20 years."
Not only will NOAA’s hangar and office space be expanded, but the team will also be bringing on two new aircrafts which will improve the accuracy of both tracking storms but also surveying damage.
NOAA was able to purchase a $40.7 million Gulstream G550, which includes a base airframe, and will be modified for hurricane and tropical storm forecasts, atmospheric research and other missions.
“It brings a higher altitude so we can get that extra 5 or 6 thousand feet of data. It’s really important to the modelers. It’s really important to the Hurricane Center,” Commander Christian Sloan said.
Along with the new jet, which will arrive in 2023, NOAA will be bringing in a Beechcraft King Air which can be used in multiple regions for surveying snow, soil and also coastal mapping.
“The new King Air Has the ability to go faster, longer, higher and support more of a payload.” Commander Sloan said.
The Beechcraft King Air could be brought in as early as this year.