A commercial airline is looking for a new place to land — and Naples could be the place.
JetBlue, a New York-based airline that serves 71 cities with more than 750 daily flights, is considering expanding service to the Naples Municipal Airport, the airport announced Friday.
"Naples is an extremely popular destination for New Yorkers and our customers routinely tell us that they would like JetBlue to fly to (the Naples Municipal Airport)," Scott Laurence, vice president of network, planning and partnerships with JetBlue, wrote in a June 19 letter to Airport Executive Director Ted Soliday.
Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Reagen said commercial service would ease challenges on travelers traveling to Naples. The airline would also be good for the economy and for local businesses, he said.
"The Chamber will not only be watching, we will be cheerleading," he said. "We want to help in any way we can."
But not everyone sees it that way. Old Naples resident Alan Parker said the idea that JetBlue would come to Naples is "ridiculous."
"The service is not needed here," he said. "More traffic is not wanted here at the Naples Airport. Let it grow organically."
The deal isn't done yet. One of the stumbling blocks is the airport's current regulations that limit the maximum takeoff weight of aircraft serving the airport. The current limit, according to Soliday, is 75,000 pounds max gross weight supported by dual gear.
In his letter, Laurence wrote the limits are usually a mechanism for noise abatement. While JetBlue's airplanes exceed that weight, he said their noise footprint is similar to or lower than smaller aircraft currently using the airport.
The airline could receive a weight limit waiver, Soliday said, but the airport's bylaws require meetings with the city council and the public followed by a supermajority vote of the Airport Board to change that weight limit in any manner.
The airport had discussions with JetBlue more than a year ago about possible commercial service in Naples, Soliday said, but at that time JetBlue was concerned about runway distance.
Last year, the Airport Authority paved the safety areas at both ends of the airport's primary runway in part to attract commercial service.
Naples Mayor John Sorey, who opposed the runway extension, said he thought another community survey should be done to see how much interest there is in commercial service at the Naples airport.
"I want to know what the community feels about this," he said. "The maximum impact will be on the Naples residents."
The Transportation Security Administration would also have to be involved, Soliday said, bringing screeners and baggage handlers to the airport. They left after the loss of Yellow Air Taxi, an commercial airline operated by Friendship Airways. It stopped scheduled service to Key West in December 2008.
Parker questioned whether taxpayers would be on the hook for incentives to get JetBlue's business in Naples.
"What goodies are they going to offer? Who pays for that?" he asked. "The people who pay for that are the city of Naples and its citizens."
Soliday said he doesn't anticipate the airline to be in service in Naples before the end of the year, even if talks are smooth.
"We don't want to start commercial service and lose it again," he said.
The Naples Airport Authority members are expected to discuss JetBlue's overture at their Aug. 16 meeting.