Thursday, December 2News That Matters

Everglades Jetport in Florida was to be the world’s biggest – now there’s just a runway to nowhere

There were supposed to be runways to everywhere – but now there’s one runway to nowhere.

The vision for Everglades Jetport in Florida in the 1960s was for it to be the biggest airport in the world, occupying a 24,960-acre plot five times larger than the footprint for New York’s JFK Airport. There would be six runways with supersonic aircraft taking off and landing and a new interstate highway and high-speed monorail system whizzing passengers to Miami and the Gulf of Mexico.

But the dream crumbled and now all that remains is a ghost airport, with one runway in the middle of a swamp.

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The vision for Everglades Jetport in Florida in the 1960s was for it to be the biggest airport in the world, occupying a 24,960-acre plot five times larger than the footprint for New York's JFK Airport. Above, an aerial view of the abandoned project from Google Earth

The vision for Everglades Jetport in Florida in the 1960s was for it to be the biggest airport in the world, occupying a 24,960-acre plot five times larger than the footprint for New York's JFK Airport. Above, an aerial view of the abandoned project from Google Earth

The vision for Everglades Jetport in Florida in the 1960s was for it to be the biggest airport in the world, occupying a 24,960-acre plot five times larger than the footprint for New York’s JFK Airport. Above, an aerial view of the abandoned project from Google Earth 

When the Everglades Jetport was originally conceived, the Boeing 2707 - Boeing's answer to the Concorde (artist's concept drawing above with Pan Am branding) - was in development. It was anticipated that supersonic aircraft would dominate long-haul air travel in the future and an appropriate airport facility in the U.S for them would be needed

When the Everglades Jetport was originally conceived, the Boeing 2707 - Boeing's answer to the Concorde (artist's concept drawing above with Pan Am branding) - was in development. It was anticipated that supersonic aircraft would dominate long-haul air travel in the future and an appropriate airport facility in the U.S for them would be needed

When the Everglades Jetport was originally conceived, the Boeing 2707 – Boeing’s answer to the Concorde (artist’s concept drawing above with Pan Am branding) – was in development. It was anticipated that supersonic aircraft would dominate long-haul air travel in the future and an appropriate airport facility in the U.S for them would be needed

Construction on the Everglades Jetport was halted after the first of six runways was completed in 1970, following the release of a damning environmental report. Above, a shot of the site - now known as Dade-Collier Airport - taken in 2016

Construction on the Everglades Jetport was halted after the first of six runways was completed in 1970, following the release of a damning environmental report. Above, a shot of the site - now known as Dade-Collier Airport - taken in 2016

Construction on the Everglades Jetport was halted after the first of six runways was completed in 1970, following the release of a damning environmental report. Above, a shot of the site – now known as Dade-Collier Airport – taken in 2016

Building began in Collier County in 1968, but a year later, a damning environmental report led to work being halted permanently.

When the Everglades Jetport was originally conceived, the Boeing 2707 – Boeing’s answer to the Concorde – was in development.

It was anticipated that supersonic aircraft would dominate long-haul air travel in the future and an appropriate airport facility in the U.S for them would be needed.

The Everglades Jetport site, set amid the Big Cypress Swamp on the northwest boundary of Everglades National Park, was chosen for its proximity to Miami and because it was far enough away from large communities to avoid noise pollution.

In a brochure detailing the project, Stuart Tipton, the former president of the Air Transportation Association of America, said: ‘The recent action taken by the Dade County Port Authority to construct a new jetport makes certain that South Florida will be ready to play its part in the supersonic age.’

Meanwhile, Claude Kirk Jr, the late governor of Florida, mused: ‘What ships did almost exclusively a generation ago, planes do today. Bigger and faster planes will do it better tomorrow. For all recorded history, cities and nations with deep harbours have controlled trade.

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After work on construction was halted it was decided that the two-mile stretch of tarmac laid down would be kept in place for training purposes as it would be too costly and equally damaging to the environment to reverse the work. Above, an aerial shot of the airport taken in 2014

After work on construction was halted it was decided that the two-mile stretch of tarmac laid down would be kept in place for training purposes as it would be too costly and equally damaging to the environment to reverse the work. Above, an aerial shot of the airport taken in 2014

After work on construction was halted it was decided that the two-mile stretch of tarmac laid down would be kept in place for training purposes as it would be too costly and equally damaging to the environment to reverse the work. Above, an aerial shot of the airport taken in 2014

Other than the runway, there is nothing much else at the airport (pictured in 2016). There's no control tower or terminal and no hangars. A small single-storey office for four staff members and a tornado shelter are among the only remaining structures

Other than the runway, there is nothing much else at the airport (pictured in 2016). There's no control tower or terminal and no hangars. A small single-storey office for four staff members and a tornado shelter are among the only remaining structures

Other than the runway, there is nothing much else at the airport (pictured in 2016). There’s no control tower or terminal and no hangars. A small single-storey office for four staff members and a tornado shelter are among the only remaining structures 

A photo showing a piston-powered Douglas DC-6 aircraft making a low pass over the Dade-Collier Airport runway in 2013

A photo showing a piston-powered Douglas DC-6 aircraft making a low pass over the Dade-Collier Airport runway in 2013

A photo showing a piston-powered Douglas DC-6 aircraft making a low pass over the Dade-Collier Airport runway in 2013

‘Today it is airports – the harbours of the aviation industry – that have become the new strategic locations. In this new concept of the strategic location, South Florida has no equal. With our new supersonic jetport, South Florida is going to become a major gateway to Europe and jumping-off place for the Pacific as well.’

In 1968 the plan was for two runways to be completed within five years. However, no sooner had ground been broken than questions flooded in over the airport’s environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

The swamp featured a mix of marsh and lowland forest, with 17 endangered species, including the Florida panther, the manatee, and the Everglades mink.

Following much public outcry, hydrologist Dr Luna B Leopold was tasked by the Department of the Interior with researching the potential environmental impacts the new aerodrome would have.

His report, called the Environmental Impact of the Big Cypress Swamp Jetport, was officially released on September 17, 1969, with strong opposition to the airport voiced from the get-go.

The introduction read: ‘Development of the proposed jetport and its attendant facilities will lead to land drainage and development for agriculture, industry, housing, transportation, and services in the Big Cypress Swamp which will inexorably destroy the south Florida ecosystem and thus the Everglades National Park.’

In 1968 the plan was for two runways to be completed within five years. However, no sooner had ground been broken than questions flooded in over the airport's environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Above, an aerial snapshot of the unfinished project taken in 2020

In 1968 the plan was for two runways to be completed within five years. However, no sooner had ground been broken than questions flooded in over the airport's environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Above, an aerial snapshot of the unfinished project taken in 2020

In 1968 the plan was for two runways to be completed within five years. However, no sooner had ground been broken than questions flooded in over the airport’s environmental impact on the surrounding ecosystem. Above, an aerial snapshot of the unfinished project taken in 2020

A photo of an Air Haiti Boeing 707-331C on approach to the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport during a training flight. Along with flight training, the runway is also used, on occasion, for high-speed car-racing events

A photo of an Air Haiti Boeing 707-331C on approach to the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport during a training flight. Along with flight training, the runway is also used, on occasion, for high-speed car-racing events

A photo of an Air Haiti Boeing 707-331C on approach to the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport during a training flight. Along with flight training, the runway is also used, on occasion, for high-speed car-racing events

Dr Leopold went on to note that the jetport and commercial development would result in air, noise and water pollution.

Not only would these factors impact wildlife in the area, the paper stated that they would also be damaging to the Miccosukee tribe of Native Americans, who resided nearby.

It read: ‘The Miccosukee tribe will be totally absorbed in the intensive development, with the virtual elimination of their social customs and way of life.’

In the end, state officials took action and governor Kirk, who originally supported the idea, requested the Big Cypress site be abandoned.

Construction was subsequently halted after the first of six runways was completed, in 1970.

It was decided that the two-mile stretch of tarmac would be kept in place for training purposes as it would be too costly and equally damaging to the environment to reverse the work.

An aeronautical chart from 2016 depicts Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport as a public-use airport with a single paved runway. The strip of tarmac is set amid the marshes of the Big Cypress National Preserve on the northwest boundary of Everglades National Park

An aeronautical chart from 2016 depicts Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport as a public-use airport with a single paved runway. The strip of tarmac is set amid the marshes of the Big Cypress National Preserve on the northwest boundary of Everglades National Park

An aeronautical chart from 2016 depicts Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport as a public-use airport with a single paved runway. The strip of tarmac is set amid the marshes of the Big Cypress National Preserve on the northwest boundary of Everglades National Park

In 1973, shortly after Boeing abandoned its 2707, the Federal Aviation Administration issued a rule banning civil supersonic transport over the U.S. and plans to relocate the Everglades Jetport were never realised.

In 1974, the Big Cypress National Preserve was established as the first federal preserve in the National Park Service.

Today, the Everglades Jetport is better known as the Dade-Collier Training and Transition Airport and it remains in use as an aviation training facility for commercial pilots practising landings and, occasionally, a high-speed car-race venue

Over the years, there have been various renovations. In 1992 the runway was resurfaced and there was a lighting upgrade that cost $3.5million at the time. The taxiway also got a facelift, in 1996, for $100,000.

Other than the runway, there is nothing much else at the airport. There’s no control tower or terminal and no hangars. A small single-storey office for four staff members and a tornado shelter are among the only remaining structures.