Air traffic control tower will be ready for use next month

By David Tewes/Victoria Advocate
February 07, 2008 - 9:30 a.m.

The skyline at the Victoria Regional Airport is taking on a new look.
A 70-foot control tower built and abandoned in the 1950s is being refurbished and should be in use soon. "I'm hoping it will be by the end of March," said Larry Blackwell, the airport manager. "That's the best-case scenario."
County Judge Don Pozzi said he's looking forward to that day.
"I think this is going to be a tremendous asset for the airport," he said. "It's certainly going to, first and foremost, have an impact on safety."
The tower was built by the Air Force 51 years ago. The base was then abandoned and turned over to the county and the tower was never used by the military or by civilian agencies for its intended purpose.
The $1.8 million tower renovation project, which is 90 percent complete, is a month or two behind schedule. Consultant Jason Milewski with Clough Harbour and Associates said most of the delays have been weather and design related.
Pozzi said the federal bill authorizing the money to pay for the air traffic controllers has been signed by President Bush. The four controllers and a manager will have an annual payroll of $400,000.
Those salaries will be paid by the Federal Aviation Administration. The airport will be responsible for the cost of maintenance and operation.
Blackwell said he's asked that once the Federal Aviation Administration inspects and certifies the tower, that it be in operation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Milewski, a pilot, said having controllers will make the airport safer because they will be guiding aircraft into and out of the airport. Under the current system, pilots themselves are responsible for visually locating other aircraft and coordinating with each other over the radio.
Having air traffic controllers to check the weather could also result in fewer delayed and canceled flights, Pozzi said. Weather is currently provided by an automated system, which sometimes fails.
Pilots can be prohibited from landing and taking off without such information as cloud ceiling and visibility. That can be provided by the controllers if the automated weather station malfunctions.
The renovation is being done by three contractors. They are Clegg Services and Tucker Construction, both of Victoria, and AJT and Associates, based in Florida.
"I've seen and dealt with a lot of construction and I'm really impressed with the people we have out there," Milewski said. "They had a lot of opportunities to try and cut corners and they didn't."
David Tewes is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6515 or dtewes@vicad.com

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