BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Airport has received federal approval to push ahead with plans to build an aircraft control tower.
Airport director Don Silvernell, who has been working on the project for some time, got the good news late last week.
The tower is needed for safety reasons. While Silvernell said he has never seen an aviation accident or even heard of a near miss at the airport, he said having that extra safety factor is critical. The airfield has the full spectrum of craft from ultralights to jets all sharing the same airspace.
"The tower will just make it safer,'' he said.
The Federal Contract Control Tower Program requires general aviation airports to meet a rating based on criteria including airport operations, the number and type of airplanes using the facilities and the number of accidents that could be prevented if a tower were on site.
Hernando County Airport rated a 1.81 with the number of military aircraft in and out of the site helping to boost that number, Silvernell said Monday.
The approval is just one step of the process. The next critical step is to seek a sponsorship agreement with the Hernando County Commission so that the planning can go forward. Then, officials will meet with a consulting engineer, put together a financing plan and select a site.
Silvernell said that getting a tower built at the airport could take two years and cost approximately $2-million. "It's a good deal for us,'' he said. Tax money won't be part of that plan. The airport operates as an enterprise fund, so operations of the facilities are self sufficient and do not require general fund money from the county, Silvernell said.
The way the federal program works, the airport will plan, build and equip the control tower. The Federal Aviation Administration will then examine the facility. If the tower is approved, the FAA pays to staff the tower beginning in the next fiscal year.
Also on Monday, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission sent forward a plan for more expansion at the busy airport.
By unanimous vote, the commission voted to recommend a rezoning to the County Commission that will pave the way for an expansion for a firm called Flight Services, which has seven jets at the airport.
The company is seeking the expansion to move more of its maintenance and operations, and possibly another half-dozen planes, from Texas to Hernando.
The firm manages aircraft for itself and other companies, providing scheduling, maintenance and pilot services, according to Silvernell.
The new facilities will include two large hangars and an office building on an 11-acre parcel in an area of the airport not currently developed. Part of the deal is that the firm pays to bring the water, sewer and an extension of Technology Drive to the site. In return, the company will get a break on the cost of their lease over a period of years.
That is still a good deal for the county, according to Silvernell. Once the infrastructure has been brought to the site for Flight Services, other firms could come to fill in the available lots with the needed utilities already in place.
While he didn't have firm numbers, he said the expansion could increase the number of Hernando Airport-based corporate jets by 50 percent.
In other Planning and Zoning Commission business:
• The commission recommended to the County Commission approval of a rezoning to allow construction of a RaceTrac convenience store and gas station on the northwest corner of the intersection of Cortez Boulevard and Fort Dade Avenue.
The applicant, Joseph Mason, Jr. for 50/50 Land Trust, sought a lesser buffer with the neighboring campground than recommended by staff. But the planning commissioners agreed to the staff recommendation allowing county commissioners to make the change if they agreed.
• The commission approved a special exception allowing Michelle C. Tibbs to give private swimming lessons for infants in her home north of Blythville Road. Only planning and zoning commissioner Anthony Palmieri voted against the item because he saw it as a business encroaching on a residential neighborhood.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.