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Vero Beach Airport seeing sharp increase in private jet traffic

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of January 6, 2022)

If you spent any time near the Vero Beach Regional Airport the past couple of weeks, you probably noticed an unusual number of jets taking off and landing.

Get used to it.

Airport Director Todd Scher said jet traffic here has been increasing steadily throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as more travelers who possess the financial means are choosing to own and/or fly on private aircraft.

“We’re seeing more charters, more private ownership and more fractional ownership, which is essentially a time-share for corporate jets and opens up ownership to a lot more people,” Scher said.

“I don’t have exact numbers – while we record overall operations, we don’t break them down by types of aircraft – but I’ve been at this airport a long time and I’ve definitely noticed an increase in jet traffic.”

It’s not uncommon for private and corporate jet traffic to spike during the Christmas-to-New Year holidays, Scher said, but there were times the past couple of weeks when jets took off and landed at the local airport at a remarkable rate.

And remember: In September, Elite Airways temporarily moved its commercial jet service to Melbourne to allow for the resurfacing of the longest runway at the Vero Beach airport.

Elite is schedule to resume its Vero Beach flights to Newark, New Jersey, in March.

Meanwhile, Scher said he expects the busier-than-normal jet traffic to continue through Easter, which will be celebrated on April 17.

Contributing mightily to the increase in jet activity in Vero Beach is Corporate Air, which was founded by Rodger Pridgeon in 1987 and offers a variety of services, including fueling, maintenance, hangar space, charter jets and a comfortable and well-equipped terminal.

According to Pridgeon, Corporate Air’s president and manager, the company’s facilities can accommodate “everything from a small personal jet to a Boeing 737.”

Pridgeon said the company does most of its business around weekends – jets fly in Thursday or Friday and fly out Sunday or Monday – and it experienced a “big jump” in activity the past two years, enjoying a 35-percent increase in 2021.

“We’re busy, and we’d be 10- or 20-percent busier if the long runway was open,” Pridgeon said, attributing at least some of increase in business to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the airlines shut down, people who needed to travel started using private jets, and some of them got spoiled,” he continued. “So even after the airlines started up again, people who used to fly first class instead chose to continue flying privately.

“Now, COVID has made flying with the airlines very challenging, which also benefits us,” he added. “In addition, we’re seeing more and more people moving to Florida, and Vero Beach has become a hot spot.

“We’re now a destination.”

Pridgeon also cited the growth of the county’s population, ongoing real estate boom and affluence in the community as factors in the Corporate Air boom, which he said brought in 50-plus jets during Christmas week.

He said he expects to remain busy until June 1.

“Our season runs from October through the end of May,” Pridgeon said. “Last year, though, we saw an increase in business during the offseason, too.”