With the Federal Aviation Administration’s lifting of a 10-year moratorium on new control towers at U.S. airports, Gulf Shores officials are taking steps to have the first one at a Baldwin County airport.
“In the new FAA budget this year, that we helped craft, Congress mandated that the FAA announced that it would begin accepting applications on June 1,” Gulf Shores Airport Authority Manager Scott Fuller said. “Under the law, they have 120 days to respond to a request. We are in the process of completing our packet and reports now.”
Board member Jerry Johnson, also an Orange Beach councilman, said the efforts of Sen. Richard Shelby, Fuller and the Gulf Shores Airport Authority’s influence helped end the moratorium.
“Sen. Richard Shelby, Scott Fuller and Marisa Montgomery and the entire board have been pushing for this for a number of years,” Johnson said. “They said if it wasn’t for Richard Shelby appropriating funds and JKA pushing it to the level that it was we don’t feel like the program would have ever been given the funds.”
In June, Shelby’s office announced that 20 airports in Alabama would get more than $25.9 million in FAA grants. Two were revealed at the time, almost $2.2 million for Mobile’s airport for a sweeper truck and to improve the facility’s master plan, and $305,000 to Foley to repave 1,400 feet of taxiway.
When the FAA announced the end of the moratorium, Gulf Shores began the process in March by authorizing money for engineering and design for a new tower.
“Anticipating this, the authority authorized an engineering contract expending over $500,000 to perform site analysis, construction design and bid documents,” Fuller said.
The board is also taking steps to try and be the first in line to get approval and funding for a new tower. On the Gulf Coast, Mobile, Pensacola and Destin are the closest airports with towers.
“Our plan is to complete FAA review and design in October, begin bid phase in November, begin construction in March 2020, and commission the new tower January 2021,” Fuller said. “Of course, certain funding approvals will have to timely take place to meet this schedule. So, in effect, we will be shaving a year off the schedule by moving ahead of approval.”
Taking note, the FAA has indicated it would like to start the new process of approving towers with Gulf Shores as an example for other applicants.
“The FAA was looking for an airport volunteer to try out their new site selection review process,” Fuller said. “So, we volunteered and they are expediting our process. We should be ready for bid about the time we are approved.”
Johnson said the goal is to develop future passenger service at Jack Edwards.
“What we are going to be doing is bringing a hopper type carrier to JKA where you can fly from here to Nashville, here to Atlanta, here to maybe Houston or Dallas,” Johnson said. “It won’t be a commercial carrier coming in – we’re not that big – but we probably will have some that will be interested in providing those type services.”
Having the tower will provide a multitude of benefits for the airport and the surrounding area, Fuller said.
“The reason for the tower is safety, efficiency and cost savings,” he said. “The tower will control the airspace above the airport and out to three miles in every direction. This will provide some semblance of control as our traffic at times resembles an airshow with aircraft going in all directions at all times.”
When planes approach the Gulf Shores airport now, they must communicate with each other to coordinate takeoffs and landings. A tower, Fuller said, will increase the safety during those operations.
“Aircraft will be required to report in and be given instructions on procedures prior to entering our airspace and alerted to other aircraft positions,” he said. “This currently is a significant reason for the over 25,000 radio transmissions per month being made between pilots trying to locate each other.”
Because there is no tower here, Pensacola control, who initiates an approach to the Gulf Shores airport, must have all others on the ground or in the air on hold until they receive a call from arriving aircraft that they are clear of the runway, Fuller said.
“The costs and time of delays can be exasperating when one party forgets to call in,” he said. “This necessitates a ground search for the aircraft if one can be conducted before another arrival is allowed. On some occasions, aircraft have been diverted to other airports.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).