Naples Airport by Chris Rozansky, Executive Director, Naples Airport Authority

For over a century, airplanes have flown to and from Naples and the surrounding community, long before the current Naples Airport was established. Photos from as early as 1919 show pilots using local golf courses and beaches as landing strips. Aircraft also landed on a “runway” at the intersection of 5th Avenue South and 3rd Street South in downtown Naples.

It was not until World War II that aviation formally came to Naples when an Army Air Corps base was built in a swampy area east of the Gordon River to serve as a base for training gunners and fighter pilots. Construction on the “Naples Airdrome” began in 1942 and by December 1943 the first three officers and 78 enlisted men arrived. By April 1944, it was renamed Naples Army Airfield (NAAF) and served as base for the 2119th Flexible Gunnery Training School.

During 1945, at the height of training, 75 planes were based at NAAF, including popular trainers of the day such as the AT-6 (Texan), P-39 (Airacobra), and P-40 (Warhawk). RP-63s (Pinballs) were most commonly used during the training program at NAAF. Incredibly advanced for their time, these aircraft were designed with a protective duralumin covering and featured special red blinking lights to confirm hits during aerial attacks. Pinballs were shot at by other pilots using disintegrating bullets. Sensors under the plane’s armor detected vibrations from impacts, and a cockpit counter tracked “hits” by lighting up like a pinball machine. Following the conclusion of WWII, the Army returned the airfield to Collier County and the City of Naples in 1948. Eventually, the county sold its interests to the city in 1958.

Since the 1950s, the Naples Airport has served as a home to private aviation and aviation-related businesses. However, by the late 1960s, with airport operating expenses costing taxpayers approximately $200,000 annually, the City discussed the idea of forming an independent airport authority. In 1969, the Florida Legislature– at the request of the Naples City Council –created the City of Naples Airport Authority (NAA) as an independent government agency charged with the operation, development, and improvement of the Naples Airport.

Since then, the NAA has operated in a financially self-sustaining manner, receiving no local tax dollars, and funding its operations primarily by revenues generated at the airport. With each passing decade, the airport has strengthened its identity as a vital regional transportation asset with a focus on safety, the environment, and service to the community. The Naples Airport plays an important role in public service by serving as the base of operations for Collier Mosquito Control District, Collier EMS MedFlight, and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

For over 80 years the Naples Airport has changed and adapted with the community. From its founding as an Army Air Base in WWII, to serving as a transportation hub for a growing community and now as an economic driver supporting a thriving local economy, the Naples Airport has supported the community’s needs. The NAA remains committed to ensuring that the airport maintains this critical role and continues to make Naples and Collier County the best place in the county to live, work, and play.

Want to learn more about the Naples Airport? For a tour of the airport, or to arrange for a speaker at your group’s next meeting, call (239) 643-0733.


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