The Hernando County Airport, once a surplus facility from U.S. Army training in World War II, is recognized as one of the finest general aviation airports in the state of Florida.
It is comprised of some 2,400 acres including a corporate park, industrial park and other commercial operations. The Airport Industrial Park is uniquely positioned for business, with excellent access to air, truck and rail.
It started more than 25 years ago with Sims Machine & Control, the first tenant, which opened its doors on Flight Path Drive in 1984. Since then, private investment on the Hernando County Airport has led to 130 businesses calling the airpark home. We have over 1.5 million square feet of industrial supplying more than 2,000 jobs.
Over the years we have heard many comments expressed that Hernando County needs more jobs not related to the construction trades. We agree. The Hernando County Airport and its industrial park are an economic success story, and we have been participating in creating non-construction jobs in Hernando County for over 25 years. It did not happen overnight and it did not happen without many years of investment and planning.
Unlike many general aviation airports, the Hernando County Airport does not require local tax dollars to operate. The revenues used to operate the Hernando County Airport are received through land leases to commercial and industrial tenants, hanger rentals and aviation-related fees. These funds, per federal guidelines, can only be spent on the airport property.
Now, we have an opportunity to add a control tower. The placement of a tower at the Hernando County Airport will not cost the taxpayers of Hernando County any money, but will generate business activities and increase revenues, enhance safety and make our airport more competitive with other ones in the region.
In December, the airport received a state Department of Transportation grant to fund the design and placement of the control tower. The airport also has been accepted into a program administered by the Federal Aviation Administration to staff the control tower at no expense to Hernando County.
Currently, aircraft using our facility utilize a common frequency on which pilots are supposed to announce their intentions and positions. This system, as you can imagine, requires the users to be diligent and accurate in announcing their every movement, a highly unpredictable procedure.
The airport now has two full-time fixed-based operators servicing the pilots and aircraft, along with the military operations, that utilize the airport. The Aviation Authority and airport management believe that because of the mix of users, an air traffic control tower must be considered.
It will enhance safety by providing direction and separation to all aircraft using the facility. It will also provide the ability to implement and enforce noise abatement procedures and direct traffic away from schools, special events and other critical facilities, enhancing the quality of life for all Hernando County.
There are some opposing the tower, but here are the key questions:
Do we pull over and park and say no to economic growth at the airport?
Or, do we have move forward as we have done in the past, seizing opportunities to make our airport safer and work toward expanding the economic engine of Hernando County in order to add jobs and increase the tax base?
Gary E. Schraut is chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority.