Monday, April 23, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando airport operations fall short, but supporters say tower a good investment

BROOKSVILLE — As the end of the first year of controlled air traffic at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport draws near, records show that airport activity is nowhere close to the original projections.

While 90,000 airport "operations" were predicted, there were just 41,893 operations from the time the tower opened in mid October through the end of August.

At that rate, by the time the tower hits its one-year anniversary, it likely will have reached only about half of the operations predicted.

Operations include takeoffs and landings, as well as activities such as moving fuel trucks, moving airplanes and airplane flyovers.

The lower-than-expected numbers allow airport critics, including longtime pilot and former Hernando County Aviation Authority member David Lemon, to say "I told you so.''

"We could have operated safely for another 25 years without that tower,'' Lemon said.

He argues from a pilot's perspective, saying that the airport should be more concerned about maintaining the aviation side of the facility rather than industrial development.

Lemon has been predicting for several years not only that the tower would be shown to be a waste of public money, but also that the Federal Aviation Administration would pull funding once the true picture of airport activity came into focus.

The tower, however, is in no danger of losing its funding, according to county and airport officials.

They say the original estimates were done when the economy was booming and that the current numbers are respectable, given the size of the Hernando airport. Seeing the potential of having the enhanced safety and sophistication that comes with a tower will grow over time, they argue.

The real question revolves around future funding for the contract tower program nationwide, said new airport manager Kevin Daugherty. With Congress potentially continuing its budget stalemate, he said, contract towers across the country could again land in the cross hairs.

Earlier this year, the FAA announced it would close 149 towers, then relented. The Hernando tower was not on the list, but only because a full year of operations numbers was not available.

"I'm confident that the program isn't going to go away,'' Daugherty said.

He has some experience with the risk of tower closure. He came here from the Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland, where the newly constructed control tower landed on the list of closures.

Daugherty said he made the argument that the airport was just 10 miles from the Camp David presidential retreat, but that wasn't enough to keep it off the list.

In 2008, the Hernando airport received FAA approval to become part of the contract control tower program. The airport planned and built the tower, with 80 percent of the funding for the $2.25 million project coming from the Florida Department of Transportation.

Once the FAA accepted the tower, the agency agreed to pick up the $450,000 annual cost of staffing it. The tower is staffed by one tower manager and six air-traffic controllers. The airport picks up the cost of tower maintenance, at about $15,000 a year.

If the FAA money were pulled, the airport would have to pay for the staffing or close the facility. Daugherty said he doesn't believe that local governments should be in the business of running air traffic control towers. That is the job of the FAA.

Still, Daugherty said he likes air traffic control towers and, as a pilot, he won't fly into an airport without one because of the safety they provide.

They also are a draw, said Gary Schraut, chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority. He points to the recent new tenant at the airport, Corporate Jet Solutions, as an example. That company reportedly based its decision to come to Hernando on having a tower since the company maintains larger aircraft.

"If the FAA didn't want us to have the tower, we wouldn't have the tower,'' Schraut said. "We're excited about it being here.''

Michael McHugh, the county's business development manager during the time the tower was being planned and constructed, said the estimates for activity at the airport were clearly wrong for the current conditions. They were developed when Hernando was growing rapidly.

That being said, the county would have qualified for the tower even with a projection of only 50,000 operations, he said.

Another impact on the numbers is that the Black Hawk helicopters based at the airport have been in Kosovo for months, and military operations are a significant portion of the activities at the airport, McHugh said.

"We don't have any control over that,'' he said.

The value of the tower is just unfolding, but already a couple of things are clear, McHugh said. The safety aspect is clearly important, he said, but by increasing the level of sophistication at the airport "it reinforces that this is a facility with much more capability than we originally had.''

Another plus is the fact that there are three flight schools planned at the airport, and those will bring with them many more countable operations. Flight schools come to airports with towers to provide a controlled environment for training, McHugh said.

"These businesses are what bring the traffic, and I see a lot of traffic drivers coming down the road pretty quick,'' he said. "I don't think that we have unlocked all of the possibilities . . . all of the value this tower is going to bring.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Comments

Police: Baby taken with stolen car found in St. Petersburg parking lot

ST. PETERSBURG — An 8-month-old baby was found just minutes after disappearing in the back of a stolen car Monday afternoon, according to St. Petersburg police.The boy was found safe in the parking lot of an apartment complex at 800 71st Ave. N, poli...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

Deputies: Parents may have fled with newborn ordered taken by court

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a missing and endangered one-month-old baby boy.Sage Cooper was last seen Friday at a home on Oak Pride Court in Tampa with his mother, Kaitlynn Lovel. Investigators believe that Lovel, 25, absconded with the child,...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

Work starting on JW Marriott, but Water Street Tampa expects to have 10 buildings under way within a year

TAMPA — Water Street Tampa marks the start of construction Tuesday on its first building, the JW Marriott hotel, but there’s a lot more to come. And soon. Within a month or so, construction will begin on at least two more projects, 815 ...
Updated: 21 minutes ago

Updated: 30 minutes ago
FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

FHP: Man struck, killed by SUV while walking in center of road

TRINITY — A 49-year-old man was struck and killed early Monday morning by a sport-utility vehicle as he walked in the center of westbound Trinity Boulevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.Phillip Meadows, of New Port Richey, was wearing dark...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

Did you see who hit panhandler near Selmon and drove away?

TAMPA — A man with a history of arrests for roadside soliciting has been found dead at the side of a road. Jess Paez, 51, was identified by Tampa police Monday as the victim of an apparent hit-and-run crash over the weekend. His body was found about ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Forget the sewers, St. Pete has a crisis of trust

Romano: Forget the sewers, St. Pete has a crisis of trust

Imagine what kind of spin the world might have endured had St. Petersburg sewer officials been asked to explain the final Hindenburg flight.• The landing, city leaders acknowledged, was bumpy.• Some passengers chose to disembark before the airship re...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Pinellas news briefs

Morton Plant Mease offers free skin cancer screeningsFor the 22nd year, Morton Plant Mease is continuing its tradition of offering free skin cancer screenings on May 7 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Cheek-Powell Heart and Vascular Pavilion on the Morto...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

Police arrest suspect in Waffle House shooting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The suspect in a quadruple homicide at a Nashville Waffle House was taken into custody Monday, police said. Authorities had mounted a massive manhunt for 29-year-old Travis Reinking, after the Sunday morning attacks. Authorities an...
Updated: 1 hour ago
With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

With lights from Toys R Us dimmed, sales plunge at Hasbro

Associated PressNEW YORK — With its sales falling due to the liquidation of Toys R Us, Hasbro is looking for new places to sell Monopoly, My Little Pony and its other toys. Hasbro said Monday it will rely more on online sales, although it has also be...
Updated: 1 hour ago