Florida Keys

Keys airport chief prepares for final landing before retirement

After more than 30 years in local government, Peter Horton's last day as Monroe County's director of airports is Dec. 31.
After more than 30 years in local government, Peter Horton's last day as Monroe County's director of airports is Dec. 31. KeysInfoNet

Retiring Monroe County Director of Airports Peter Horton likes to film sharks underwater with his GoPro camera. He calls it a hobby.

The outgoing Horton will deplane, so to speak, after more than 30 years in local government, including more than 15 years overseeing the county's two airports, Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon Airport, with retirement set for Dec. 31.

Horton will have more time to film sharks and other water-based activities.

"I used to go trout fishing," Horton said, reflecting on his previous stint at a Colorado airport. "Here, I don't own a fishing pole. I never have, so maybe that’s something I'll take up."

The 67-year-old's office is still wrought with paperwork, awards and the like. He has a couple layouts of Key West's airport over the years. The University of California at Berkley graduate calls his defining moment the opening of the Key West airport's 30,000-square-foot terminal in 2009. It replaced a much smaller building.

The move brought more than 20 percent more airline passenger traffic to the Southernmost City. Horton, though, is humble in taking credit.

"I guess I'll take responsibility for it because I take the blame when it's [traffic numbers] cut down," he said.

Deputy County Administrator Debbie Frederick, who was worked with Horton for about 25 years, said that is expected.

"He's been that way ever since I could remember," Frederick said.

Monroe County Mayor Sylvia Murphy agrees. She said Don DeGraw, who was hired in June 2013 to run the Marathon airport and eventually replace Horton as airports director, may take some time to adjust.

"Peter has taken advantage of every little blip to improve that [Key West] airport," Murphy said. "Every bit of it is due to him."

Horton touched on the possible return of commercial flights to Marathon's airport. The airfield formerly had, among others, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines. But commercial service has been tough to attract and keep. Currently the airport is for just general aviation.

Horton said any commercial air service there would need to be subsidized. Delta was subsidized but pulled out after six months.

Thomas Henderson, operations officer at John Wayne Airport in California, was named assistant director of airports, a position based out of Marathon's airport, earlier this month.

Incoming airports chief DeGraw said Horton has been like a father figure to him. He said the No. 1 priority moving forward is trying to get a low-cost airline back into the Southernmost City. Southwest Airlines dropped its Key West route in June.

Meanwhile, back in Horton's office, he plopped his iPhone on a table. He certainly won't miss the constant calls and e-mails.

"I have no plans at this point to be a consultant or whatever," Horton said. "Before the smartphones, we were on call 24 hours a day. With the smartphones, we're now on duty 24 hours a day. Huge difference -- we get calls, we get texts, we get e-mails."

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