A proposed air traffic control tower at the Destin Airport has been sitting on the tarmac for years, but some city leaders say the sooner it could be constructed, the better.
“I think this is something we need to cut on the air valve for and make sure we do everything we can to get the money,” Councilman Jim Wood told his colleagues.
During their Sept. 4 city council meeting, city leaders unanimously agreed to issue a resolution of support for an air traffic control tower to the Federal Aviation Administration, urging them to make grant funding available for construction. The proposed tower would cost about $3 million to build.
With everything from tourism helicopters, banner planes, parasailers, and any number of other aircraft occupying the airspace over Destin, Councilman Jim Bagby wants the city to make sure they include every bit of information possible when they make their case for the tower.
“I want to make sure we paint an accurate picture of what’s going on in the airspace above Destin,” he said. “So that includes the banner planes; I don’t know who’s keeping track of them taking off.”
During the second annual Mid-Air Collision Avoidance Program at Coast Guard Station Destin back in May, Chuck Ebbecke, a pilot and current Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team member, said that the skies above Destin are
one of the busiest airspaces I have ever had the pleasure to fly.”
When Okaloosa County Airports Director Greg Donovan was first hired in 2008, he said that the most pressing concern for the Destin Airport would be to improve the overall safety, saying an air traffic control tower would “enhance safety.”
Currently all air traffic in and out of the Destin Airport is overseen by air traffic controllers at Eglin Approach Control, where they have to rely on radar to identify aerial traffic and issue instructions to arriving, departing and transitional traffic, according to the city.
While many say the control tower would improve safety for air traffic, newly appointed Councilman Jim Foreman says he still has some concerns, focusing on the ability to handle emergency situations and the proper emergency equipment.
“I think knowing that we’ve had some issues with the curve along Airport Road… it wouldn’t take much to hit some of them tanks out there,” he said. “We might well want to know how to put the fire out.”
“At a minimum, we should have the type of equipment to put out aviation fires,” he added.
Councilwoman Sandy Trammell said that the airport had installed concrete structures to prevent vehicles from coming through the airport fences and hitting the fuel tanks.
Although there is support locally for the project, much like other projects around the county funding is needed to move forward.
Okaloosa County is currently in the Control Tower Program through the FAA, but is waiting on funding for the project.
Given a lack of funding, Wood was plenty optimistic that the Destin Airport would see an air traffic control tower sooner rather than later.
“This has been an issue of mine for a while,” he said. “We’ll get this done and get it out there, and hopefully in 2014 we’ll see a tower up.”