By: Scott Gunnerson
TITUSVILLE — The air traffic control tower at Space Coast Regional Airport will remain in operation after the FAA pulls out next month, according to the Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority.
“We plan to fund the tower and keep it open, that’s the bottom line,” said Jerry Sansom, the chairman of the Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority.
The Titusville airport is among 149 federal-contract towers that the Department of Transportation will stop funding based on the FAA’s sequestration plan to cut $627 million from its budget by Sept. 30.
The airport authority is in negotiations with Robinson Aviation Inc. for air-traffic control support after the FAA suspends funding for the Titusville tower April 7.
Robinson, which employs more than 500 air traffic controllers, currently operates 96 air-traffic control towers under the FAA Contract Tower Program, including Space Coast Regional Airport and Melbourne International Airport.
“Hiring the same people should eliminate any break in coverage,” Sansom said.
The Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority is reviewing a month-to-month contract with Robinson. The airport board will meet April 5 to consider the contract.
“We’ll do this month-to-month until will get this resolved with the FAA,” Sansom said.
The authority estimates it would cost $300,000 for the rest of the budget year ending Sept. 30 to keep the air traffic control tower open, and $600,000 on a yearly basis.
“We are exploring several options for meeting this extra funding burden that is clearly not in our budget,” Sansom said.
The manned air traffic control tower is a major safety concern for Bristow Academy, a helicopter flight-training school that includes live air-traffic control as an essential part of its curriculum. The tower is required for European certification, which is an international standard.
“We have nearly 60 helicopters at the airfield, and if we were to try to operate the helicopters with the diverse air traffic at Space Coast Regional Airport without an air traffic control tower, we would seriously increase the risk of aircraft getting to close to one another,” said Nick Mayhew, general manager of Bristow Academy at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville.
The airport authority also considers a staffed tower an economic asset that helps attract companies. Last summer, Rocket Crafters announced it would build a $72 million, 400,000-square-foot facility at Space Coast Regional for suborbital craft development.
“We intend for Space Coast Regional to be an economic engine for North Brevard, and that includes an operational tower,” Sansom said. “The last thing we want is to let this have an adverse economic impact on the region.”