By: Marci Shatzman
There were two flyovers, one unscheduled during the National Anthem and another with Lynn University on the plane’s wings, as a group assembled under an open tent on the tarmac.
Frank Feiler, who heads the Boca Raton Airport Authority, was intent on keep the groundbreaking for the new building upbeat. “This is 13 years of dreams and hopes and stop paying rent,” he said.
The authority rents space in the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University, just around the corner.
“How happy we are for the airport to move into their own building,” said Councilman Anthony Majhess, who spoke for the city at the event, which took place next to the 1.6 acre site where a one-story office building will go up in the next few months.
But while they’re celebrating, the general aviation transport facility is coping with the impending shutdown of its control tower on April 7, one of 189 airports under federal sequester budget cuts.
The safety issue took on more urgency after the March 15 crash of a Piper Cheyenne turboprop taking off from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport in the 5300 block of North Powerline Road. Three people on board were killed.
At the Boca Raton Airport Authority’s March 20 meeting in City Council chambers, airport manager Ken Day said his staff has met all the Federal Aviation Administration deadlines so far to “formulate our argument.” Closure would create “an adverse economic impact on the community and the airport serves as a critical diversionary airport for a large hub airport,” he said.
More than 40 percent of the traffic is corporate jets, which share a single runway with small slow planes, Janet Sherr, the airport’s director of landside operations was quoted in the Sun Sentinel coverage on the issue. “The mixing of different fleets” could jeopardize safety, she said.
It’s unclear if corporate jets will continue to use an unprotected airport and choose a more secure airport instead.
“The airport is surrounded by densely populated neighborhoods and business districts. It is also near major commercial airports and in airspace teeming with jet traffic. Boca Raton Airport abuts Interstate 95 north of Glades Road,” the Sun Sentinel’s aviation reporter Ken Kaye said in his March 17 story.
Fearing their control tower will close, the airport “submitted our arguments and supplements from city council and their resolution, and Palm Beach County Commission Mayor Steve Abrams and support from two congressman,” Day said at the meeting. “The FAA will consider all the briefs by March 22 and that date may be extended. There is activity on the hill on this matter.”
“Thirty people came out and many are writing letters and making phone calls, including the retail and hotel industry and homeowner associations within a 5-mile radius,” Feiler said at the meeting. “I haven’t seen anyone on the other side. Harrison Ford appeared on TV and was very vocal and thousands of stories have been written all over the country. Now it’s up to the people in D.C.”
Authority member Dave Freudenberg wanted to see “a plan B or C in case Congress doesn’t act by April 6 or 7,” he said at the meeting. “I don’t want to see us suddenly see our tower closed.”
Feiler said Day has prepared for contingencies, but there was no discussion of other funding for the control tower. The authority could hold another emergency meeting before the April 7 shutdown date, Feiler said.
The new building will go up in phases, with utilities going in about three months from now and then a 2,500-square-foot building, said Pete Ricondo of Aviation Consultants. The building will have administrative offices, a conference and break rooms, support service and meeting rooms.
“We’ve laid it out so it can expand another 2,000 square feet,” he said.
“This is a happy occasion, vs. the struggles, but I have every confidence the tower will remain open,” Abrams said at the ceremony.
Local singer Kendra Fulmer sang “The Star Spangled Banner” as a private jet took off. Lynn University has a flight school at the airport and that flyover later was scheduled.
Before the ceremony, people were still talking about debris hitting their homes after a Learjet and an Extra 300S aerobatic planes collided about 3 miles from Boca Raton Airport in June 2000. Three crew on the Learjet and the pilot of the Extra were killed.