Plans to build a new air traffic control tower at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport are on hold due to federal budget cuts mandated by sequestration.
The new tower, in the works since 2009, would address safety and operational concerns that the Federal Aviation Administration identified with the airport’s current, 90-foot tower.
The state and airport have already earmarked $12 million for construction. But the airport needs $6 million from the FAA, the aviation industry’s governing body, before it can begin construction on a tower and 10,000- square-foot base building proposed for a site 550 feet east of U.S. 41.
The FAA’s budget cuts have delayed funding, said the airport’s president, Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo.
“We finished the necessary environment and sighting studies and received a stimulus grant for this project years ago. Now that the design is 100 percent complete, we’re ready to go,” Piccolo said.
“We’ve been working with the FAA for over a year, but we can’t get them to commit one way or the other.”
A spokeswoman for the FAA, Kathleen Bergen, said the agency has agreed to the new tower but it couldn’t project when the money would be available.
The airport has struggled since the departure of AirTran, a discount airliner that merged with Southwest Airlines and pulled out of the region a year ago. Passenger traffic at Sarasota-Bradenton is down 13.4 percent so far this year, equal to a loss of more than 100,000 paying travelers.
Construction of the new tower complex would be the first step in developing a vacant 40-acre plot on the east side of the airport. Development would open the door to future runways and bring additional opportunities to attract more air carriers and room for cargo shipments.
“The biggest impediment to develop that acreage is where the tower is located. We don’t have anyone knocking on the door to develop that side of the property, but who knows what will come three, five or 10 years from now,” Piccolo said.
Rendering images show space for new hangars that the airport could use for cargo and industrial storage.
Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers secured $45 million in funding to build a new air traffic control tower and terminal radar approach project this week.
The FAA approved $22 million in passenger facility charges, which allow commercial airports to collect fees up to $4.50 for every boarded passenger.