Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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

About 90,000 annual airport operations was the estimate used when an FAA-staffed tower was sought for Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. It is unlikely the number will be half that in the tower’s first year.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2012)

About 90,000 annual airport operations was the estimate used when an FAA-staffed tower was sought for Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. It is unlikely the number will be half that in the tower’s first year.

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 behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando airport operations fall short, but supporters say tower a good investment 09/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Busy start has Florida Hospital Center Ice dreaming big

    Tourism

    WESLEY CHAPEL — Opening day brought 600 doctors, administrators and their families from Florida Hospital. Soon after that, the facility hosted its first junior league game and a collegiate showdown. A few weeks later, 200 kids, ages 4 to 9, participated in national Learn to Play Hockey Day.

    Alex Senushkin and his grandson, Styopa Kulshyn, 3, of Lakeland, skate at the Florida Hospital Center Ice rink in Wesley Chapel.
[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]

  2. Charlie Crist calls for national day of civility

    Blogs

    WASHINGTON – A week after a gunman opened fire on a group of Republicans, Rep. Charlie Crist this morning called for the establishment of a national day of civility, saying “the need for action could not be more urgent.”

    A note from Rep. Charlie Crist
  3. NBA draft: Jonathan Isaac could make FSU history tonight

    Blogs

    Florida State forward Jonathan Isaac will probably hear his name called early in tonight's NBA draft.

  4. Qatar Airways seeks to buy a stake in American Airlines

    Airlines

    NEW YORK — State-owned Qatar Airways is attempting to buy a 10 percent stake in American Airlines, triggering U.S. antitrust oversight of deals that size.

    In this file photo, a new Qatar Airways Airbus A350 approaches the gate at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Qatar Airways is attempting to buy a 10 percent stake in American Airlines, triggering U.S. antitrust oversight over deals of such size. 
[AP file photo]
  5. In Iowa, the president channels his inner candidate Trump (w/video)

    National

    CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Struggling to advance his agenda in Washington, President Donald Trump traveled to the Midwest for a raucous rally with his loyal supporters — the kind of event he relished before winning the White House.

    President Donald Trump arrives to speak at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. This is Trump's first visit to Iowa since the election. [Associated Press]