Plans for a $5 million new air traffic control tower at Kissimmee Gateway Airport are moving forward while the city continues lobbying federal aviation officials to fund the project.
The city is counting on about $2 million from the Federal Aviation Administration for completion of the proposed 83-foot, solar-powered tower. Plans call for it to be repositioned on the runway to improve airfield operations.
The Florida Department of Transportation, along with grants and $320,000 in airport reserves will be make up the difference not funded by the FAA.
“It’s in the (federal) budget this year,” said Airport Director Terry Lloyd. “It could be passed in October.” Still, the city must continue to communicate the importance of the project to the FAA, Lloyd said.
The tower at Kissimmee’s airport was spared from proposed federal budget cuts in 2013 when sequestration threatened to close nearly 200 air traffic control towers in Florida and throughout the country. Following a federal government shutdown, Congress eventually worked out a budget and most cuts were avoided.
Congressman Alan Grayson, who helped save the tower from the sequestration list, continues to support funding for the tower, a spokesman said.
The city will continue monitoring the situation in Washington D.C. but expects the funding to come in, officials said.
“The funding hasn’t been dropped,” said Kissimmee Mayor Jim Swan. “Like a lot of things, this is a long-term project. It doesn’t happen overnight. We’ll continue to methodically work through it.”
While there are no commercial flights in or out of Kissimmee Gateway Airport, it holds a strategic position in Central Florida aviation though few residents know much about it.
The airport helps manage airspace over Walt Disney World. Radar screens in the current control tower illustrate the skies over the theme park with a digital Mickey Mouse. Flight restrictions put into place after 9/11 prevent aircraft from flying below 3,500 feet in a five-mile radius of Disney.
It also assists with air traffic control issues from Orlando International Airport, about 15 miles to the northeast. The cost to move FAA equipment used locally to help with Orlando operations would likely by funded by the federal agency, Lloyd said.
Kissimmee Gateway Airport is a key component of the city’s economic development plan. It is primed to grow 20 percent since several sites on and near airport property have been prepped for development.
One on the southwest side of the airport off Hoagland Boulevard can now accommodate between five and six 10,000 square-foot hangars.
The city built hook-ups for water, sewer and electricity on the land to make it more attractive to new businesses. Two new roads off Hoagland – Aviation Drive and Airpark Way – leading to the site also recently opened.
And with the Martin Luther King Boulevard extension now open – which connects to the airport’s main entrance on Dyer Boulevard – all the infrastructure is now in place for the airport to expand, Lloyd said. Like the site on the flight line, the city prepped an 8-acre parcel off MLK with infrastructure to make it easier for companies to move in.
In all there are about 100 acres of undeveloped or underdeveloped land that the city is currently marketing to aviation-related industry, touting its position in Central Florida with easy access to Interstate 4, Florida’s Turnpike and the nearby international airport.
The improvements to the airport have been 15 years in the making, according to city officials.