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Air tower all clear, FAA says

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:46 PM

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A representative of the Federal Aviation Administration said Thursday she is not aware of any review currently being conducted on the Hernando County Airport's statistical data for the control tower.

"We're not aware of any review of anything going on," said Kathleen Bergen, an FAA media spokeswoman.

Bergen said she checked with Washington, D.C., branch offices and could not find any active reports.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said he is not surprised. Critics of the tower have tried to disparage the project from the start and will continue to try and tear it down for whatever reason, he said.

"There is a whisper campaign among some disgruntled constituents that don't want the tower," Russell said. "They don't want to see the Brooksville-Hernando airport to progress and they'll frankly do anything to dispute the project."

Last month, a resident announced during a county commission meeting that the FAA was questioning the data airport officials used in calculating the number of aircraft takeoffs and landings.

Some in the community criticized the building of the tower and openly questioned the statistics airport officials had used to justify its erection. Proponents said its presence will spur economic development at the airport.

The tower has already proven to be an economic draw, said Russell, citing a flight school that has agreed to locate here.

"The contract's been inked, the numbers aren't in dispute and the tower's going to open in mid-October," Russell said. "Those are the facts."

Gary Schraut, chairman of the Hernando County Aviation Authority, said he wasn't concerned about the so-called investigation when it was broached last month.

"We knew all along it was just someone making an irresponsible comment," Schraut said.

Schraut said airport officials have been working with the FAA during the tower construction period and nothing was ever mentioned as to any supposed inaccuracies in flight data.

The operation of the control tower will cost an estimated $400,000 to $450,000 annually.

Bergen said the airport is responsible for funding and building the tower structure.

The FAA funds contract air traffic control service for federal contract towers and does not give grants to pay for the controllers, she said.

Jimmy Mills, the manager at Leesburg Airport and a Weeki Wachee resident, was hired last month to be the control tower manager.

The FAA informed the Hernando County Airport the contract to provide controller staffing for the new tower was issued to Robinson Aviation Inc.

RVA will be paid from the FAA's federal contract tower program and no Hernando County funds will be needed, according to an airport news release.

RVA chose Mills, an aviation professional and pilot of numerous military and civilian aircraft. Mills retired from the FAA in 2003 after 37 years of federal service and he has managed FAA air traffic control towers at Savannah, West Palm Beach and Miami International Airports. (352) 544-5290

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