Air traffic control coming back

Published 12:03 am Thursday, January 17, 2013

Beginning next week, air traffic control services will be available at South Alabama Regional Airport, after about a year’s absence.

The service will be reinstated Jan. 22, SARA co-manager Jed Blackwell said.

An unlucky lightning strike in 2011, paired with federal budget cuts, made the military decide to stop providing air traffic control services locally. The air traffic control tower and ground-control approach radar, which was due to be upgraded in 2012, was hit by lightning on Sept. 28, 2011. At the time, personnel stationed at Ft. Rucker staffed the tower and a decision was made to close it, temporarily.

Now, SARA has entered an agreement with the 1-58th Aviation Operations Battalion at Ft. Rucker to provide VFS-only air traffic control services at SARA. Blackwell said the tower will be operational from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. weekdays, excluding holidays.

Blackwell said the 1-58th from Ft. Rucker is bringing in a mobile tower from which to provide local service.

“Our goal is to secure funding in the future and construct a new, modern tower,” Blackwell said. “Of course, that hinges on first having a long-term agreement with Ft. Rucker. ”

Blackwell said the new agreement is for six months, and is renewable on a month-by-month basis after that. The agreement is based on the 1-58th’s expected deployment.

To get the service here permanently, Blackwell said, the South Alabama Regional Airport will have to construct a new 90- to 100-foot tall tower with restroom facilities. But first, it needs a long-term agreement with Ft. Rucker for personnel.

When air traffic control was discontinued near the beginning of 2012, SARA had the highest traffic numbers of any non-commercial airport in Alabama, primarily because it serves as a military refueling station.

Traffic numbers declined initially, but returned to normal levels later in 2012.

Typically, Blackwell said, the airport sells about a million gallons of fuel a year, but in 2012, that number was down to 968,000.

The tower will utilize frequency 119.55 during operating hours. When the tower is closed, Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) will be used as 22.8.