Getting a tower for Jack Edwards Airport in Gulf Shores was a long process, but Airport Manager Scott Fuller announced at a Jan. 6 council meeting the city got the final go-ahead and funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“It took five years to do it and 20 seconds to say it,” Fuller said with a chuckle after the meeting.
This will bring the first control to Baldwin County and to the second-busiest airport in the state. Gulf Shores had 90,000 landings or takeoffs in 2019, second only to Birmingham’s airport.
“We’ve been saying to the FAA that there were 26 other candidates for a tower at the time and we were the busiest and therefore we deserve to be first,” Fuller said. “A lot of that is due to the type of aircraft we have in addition to the fact that the military, Homeland Security, Coast Guard and all kinds of different aircraft are coming in, and the number of instrument approaches.”
FAA officials inspected the airport to find the ideal location for the tower and will locate the nine-story structure just north of Commerce Drive. Bids for the estimated $4.6 million facility will go out this spring with construction to start soon after. The FAA will pay 95 percent of the price and will also fund the estimated $800,000 a year it will cost to operate.
The new control tower will greatly increase the safety of Jack Edwards, which is now classified as a “see and avoid” airport.
“One of the biggest complaints we have with everybody flying into this airport and everybody in Washington is the fact that there’s too many aircraft in the pattern and they come at you from every direction,” Fuller said. “It’s an experience to fly into this airport, which is probably why we have the highest cost/benefit ratio on record.”
With three controllers manning two shifts a day, air traffic will be monitored much more closely, Fuller said.
“What the control tower will do is limit the use of the airport to one runway at a time,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got four and depending on what you want to do it’s the pilot’s discretion. They will control that air traffic so that it will cut down on hourly traffic we get.
Secondly, they will separate the aircraft from that so there’s not one right after the other. They’ll put them out to where they are a minute apart at least. And if there’re too many aircraft in the pattern then they’ll shut it down and tell them to just go away.”
Plans are also being made for a passenger terminal, which could come after the tower is operating and an airline shows interest.
“The terminal is contingent on the letter of intent from an airline,” Fuller said. “The airlines will pay for the terminal. The authority we may finance or front some of the money but it’s expected that the airlines will pay for it. We’re going to build as you go with this thing.”
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