BROOKSVILLE — Despite persistent claims to the contrary, the control tower at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport is busy enough to maintain its funding from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Airport manager Don Silvernell delivered that news to the Hernando County Commission this week. If the tower had not met the FAA standard, the county would have either had to close the tower or find another way to pay its air traffic controllers.
The tower began operations slightly more than six months ago and as of March 31 was handling landings and takeoffs at a rate of nearly 50,000 per year. That is about 54 percent of the number FAA had projected.
But Silvernell said that the FAA also factors in other safety and economic benefits, and that these helped allow the Brooksville airport to meet the agency's funding standards.
"I'm very confident that we'll remain in the program,'' he said.
Also, Silvernell has reported that the Brooksville tower is too new to be placed on the list of towers the FAA has planned to close because of the budget deadlock in Congress. The FAA requires a full year of operation numbers to assess the tower, Silvernell said.
And he predicted that in the coming months, the numbers will rise.
Two flight schools at the airport are working on receiving certificates to begin training foreign students, which would increase air traffic.
Silvernell also noted that the airport's acquisition of the former Brooksville Air Center, which has both a hangar and an office building, brings the potential for more aviation-related business.
Dave Lemon, a former member of the Hernando County Aviation Authority and regular critic of Silvernell and the current authority, blasted the report. He called Silvernell "one of the best spin doctors I've ever seen.''
Lemon said that the reports on air operations show that just one plane every 10 minutes takes off or lands during the hours the tower operates. The tower was sold as a way of avoiding collisions, which seems like a weak argument considering that there has never been a collision at the airport, he said.
He also blamed the County Commission for allowing a $450,000 annual expense for a facility that was not needed.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.