110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Skydivers don't like the idea
By Al Everson
posted Jul 22, 2008 - 3:56:26pm
The freewheeling days of flying into the wild blue yonder from the DeLand Municipal Airport, unaided by an air traffic control tower, are coming to an end.
DeLand Director of Public Services Keith Riger confirmed a control tower will be built on the city-owned airport, perhaps within a year.
"The air traffic control tower is something we have been working on for several years," Riger said. "This is going to be a controversial thing. These towers are always controversial. The skydivers oppose it."
Indeed, after years of debate about building a tower, Skydive DeLand President Bob Hallett has not veered from his opposition.
"We think basically it will slow us down and make it difficult to compete with other skydiving operations," Hallett told The DeLand-Deltona Beacon. "Imagine yourself in your driveway, and you have to contact someone and say, 'Hey, person, can I back out of my driveway?'"
Hallett said delays in getting off the ground and into the air will spell discomfort for his customers.
"In our airplanes, it's about 120 degrees at this time of the year," he said.
Waiting for clearance to take off or land will also add to his overhead expenses, continued Hallett.
"My airplanes burn about 75 gallons [of fuel] an hour," he said. Airplane fuel, he added, costs more than $5 a gallon.
The DeLand Municipal Airport has about 98,000 operations per year. An operation is a takeoff or a landing.
Thus, the airport has an average of about 270 takeoffs or landings each day, or, more than 20 per hour, or one about every three minutes.
With that number, Riger said, there is a need for some regulation.
"There's a lot of good reasons to built it," he said. "It's like a rural road."
That is, before the DeLand airport became so busy, pilots may have been able to take off and land safely without any supervision, he explained, likening the airport to a road without stop signs or speed limits.
Another user of the airport discounts the need for a tower. Bert Cornwell is a DeLand pilot who belongs to the Experimental Aircraft Association, a group of aviation enthusiasts who build and test small planes.
"There are a number of people in the EAA who are not happy with the idea of a tower," Cornwell said. "It will necessitate radios, which many [club members] do not have. It's an extra cost."
He also said the energy crisis is taking its toll on the hobby pilots.
"With the fuel situation the way it is now, many people are not flying. They can't afford it. That's going to cut down on operations," added Cornwell.
In any event, DeLand will receive a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation to cover most of the capital expense, Riger said, and some federal help is also forthcoming.
"The FDOT will pay 80 percent of the construction cost," he explained. "The FAA will provide some of the equipment for the tower, and the FAA will pay the cost of the air traffic controller."
John Wickstrom, the supervisor of aviation and seaports in the FDOT's District 5, confirmed his agency is financing the lion's share of the tower's $1.2 million cost. The FDOT has awarded a grant of $960,000, or 80 percent of the outlay.
"These are all state funds," Wickstrom replied, when asked if the Federal Aviation Administration is assisting.
DeLand will pay the remaining 20 percent of the cost from the city's airport fund. The airport fund is an enterprise fund, meaning no general tax dollars are used to pay for capital improvements or operating expenses connected with the DeLand Municipal Airport.
The airport's money comes from the leases of land, hangars and other buildings on the airport, and that financial picture is bright. According to information presented recently to the DeLand City Commission, income from leasing property at the airport has risen from about $450,000 in 2000 to more than $1 million in 2008.
Construction of the tower must begin fairly soon, Wickstrom said.
"There is a time limit on it. The grant currently expires in October 2009," he further explained.
Riger agreed the city will probably act soon.
"The timetable is uncertain," he said. "It would probably be six months."
The city, he added, will solicit bids for design and construction of the tower, which will probably be about 60 feet high.
While the tower will probably be located at or near the center of the airport, Riger said an engineering study will be needed to determine the exact site.
While it will not be a partner in paying for construction of the tower, the FAA will pay to staff the facility.
"The FAA has a regional contract with a private air traffic control company. Controllers who work in FCTs [federal contract towers] are employees of that company, not of the FAA nor the airport," explained Kathleen Bergen, the manager of external communications and public affairs for the FAA's southern region in Atlanta.
Riger said the tower will probably not be staffed around the clock but, rather, "from dawn to dusk."
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