The Gulf Shores Airport Authority broke ground on the nation’s first air traffic control tower in more than a decade last week, just days after it was awarded a $6.1 million federal grant to pay for the project. During a ceremony Friday, officials also announced the construction of a passenger terminal at Jack Edwards National Airport, revealing they’ve been in negotiations with Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways to introduce select regional service to Gulf Shores at an undetermined date in the future.
Jack Edwards is the second busiest airport in the state behind Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International, and Airport Manager Scott Fuller explained they have “been trying to deal with the air traffic issue here for 15 years.” But for more than a decade, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a moratorium on applications for new contract towers, one Fuller said was eventually lifted in 2018 with the help of local congressional efforts.
There has also been a hang-up with federal funding and after the FAA’s budget was floated with continuing resolutions for four years, Fuller thanked Sen. Richard Shelby for eventually securing a new five-year funding bill with a provision for new towers, “forcing the FAA back into the tower business.”
Fuller said after the moratorium was lifted, the airport authority worked with the FAA to create a new streamlined application and review process, while it also collaborated with the city of Gulf Shores to secure an 11-acre site on the south side of the airport property for the tower.
Gulf Shores Mayor Pro Tem Phillip Harris said the tower would improve safety and communication at the airport, where “pilots have to individually manage their way in and out today.”
“It will also manage the flyovers and the touch-and-goes and traffic impacts to our surrounding communities … then the opportunities for economic development and commercial flight opportunities,” Harris said.
Fuller noted the FAA paid for 100 percent of the tower construction, which allowed the airport authority to divert its $600,000 local match toward the design and construction of a new passenger terminal. He also announced it had received a letter of intent from Elite Airways to eventually introduce a passenger service.
Elite Airways CEO John Pearsall said the carrier operates a charter service as well as regularly scheduled routes primarily on the East Coast, “and we’re very proud to be able to announce that we’ll have some upcoming air service here, and we’re working on the destinations now with Scott and his team.”
“Elite has been around since 2006 and we specialize in unique point-to-point service so we generally don’t go to hubs,” Pearsall said. “We are always looking for special projects and unique destinations and we think this is a very special destination. We hope to really help the hoteliers and the businesses here by bringing people in on a regular basis with service they can count on, nonstop service.”
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