Albert J. Ellis Airport, just outside Richlands, is currently the third busiest airport in the country without an air traffic control tower. Airport Director Chris White says Albert J. Ellis is busier than most airports in the area, serving about 350,000 passengers a year.
“During the summer we get a lot of beachgoers, and during the winter we get a lot of Marines coming and going for training,” he said.
Administrators at Pitt-Greenville Airport said that airport serves about 57,000 passengers a year. That airport also has no air traffic control tower. Officials with Carolina Coastal Regional Airport in New Bern said that airport serves 250,000 passengers a year and has had an air traffic control tower since the 1980s.
White said adding an air traffic control tower at Albert J. Ellis will not only increase safety but also will allow more business for the airport and the area.
“There’s also some restrictions,” he said. “Some airlines cannot bring larger aircraft in when there is not a control tower there, so we hope this will help encourage that growth.”
White said the new tower could cost about $5 million. The airport has already received a $2 million state grant and expects to receive $2 million in federal money by the end of June. Airport revenue would cover the rest of the cost.
Construction on the tower is expected to begin in late 2016 and end in 2018. White said the tower will be staffed by contractors funded through the Federal Aviation Administration and will not cost the airport or the community any money. He says only the busiest airports in the country typically have control towers so it is not uncommon not to have one.