BROOKSVILLE — At 7 a.m. Monday, a new era begins at the Hernando County Airport. Airspace there will be reclassified as "controlled airspace.''
That's when the airport's newly constructed air traffic control tower officially opens for business.
The 82-foot-tall tower was dedicated in May. County and airport officials have said it will bring enhanced operational safety to the airport, a former World War II airfield with runways capable of handling large jets. The tower is also expected to make the airport and its adjacent industrial areas more attractive to some types of businesses.
The tower will operate from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week and will be staffed by an experienced team of five full-time air traffic controllers who work for Robinson Aviation Inc. The company is one of three national companies authorized to operate contract control towers.
The controllers are all retired from the Federal Aviation Administration and combined have 194 years of experience.
Managing the controllers will be Jimmy Mills of Weeki Wachee, who has been manager at Leesburg Airport.
Mills is an aviation professional and pilot of both military and civilian aircraft. He retired from the FAA in 2003 after 37 years of total federal service and has managed FAA air traffic control towers in Savannah, Ga., West Palm Beach and Miami, according to a news release from the Hernando airport.
Mills' initial duties have included finalizing procedural agreements with airport operators, developing controller training and certification programs, and meeting with airport users to inform them about the new tower and its procedures.
The team will be paid through the FAA's federal contract tower program, and there will be no cost to Hernando County.
Eighty percent of the $2.2 million cost of the tower's construction was paid for with state aviation grants. The remaining 20 percent came from lease money the airport collects from businesses at the airport.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.