There’s good news for the Jack Edwards National Airport in Gulf Shores and those who’d like to see commercial air service there. The FAA has approved its site for a control tower and will also fund its operation to the tune of $800,000 annually. After much planning, airport officials learned in December it’s a go.
Airport officials have been laying the groundwork for the last five years. Now, with FAA approval, a construction grant through the Airport Trust Fund will be applied for and bids will go out in the spring of 2020. For a commercial carrier to set up shop, the control tower is a requirement. Pilots who use the airport now it will improve dramatically on safety.
“The FAA calls it “See and Avoid” and we talk and there’s a lot of talking that goes on, telling where you are in the area, what direction you’re coming from and what runway you’re using and it takes a lot of communication that generally goes away when you have a control tower,” explained pilot, Scott Applefield.
Air traffic controllers inside the eight-story tower will begin managing the existing load of private and military flight operations. Jack Edwards is one of the busiest airports in the country without a control tower. At 90-thousand flights annually, it’s the busiest airport in the state behind Birmingham and commercial service won’t be far behind.
“We’ve had a lot of construction over the last four or five years to prepare for this…close to 12 million dollars in federal funds to prepare for air service out here and with the design of the terminal, conceptual design complete now, we were able to modify the tower a little bit so it will match the new terminal,” said Airport Manager, Scott Fuller.
Airport officials are currently in discussions with commercial carriers and hope to have a letter of intent from one of them by the end of the year. Once that happens, construction of the two-gate terminal could begin in as soon as 12 to 24 months. Targeted customers will be those coming from Texas and the mid-west.
“We’re not going to compete with Pensacola. We’re not going to compete with Mobile. We’re looking for people who are wanting to come here now but don’t or are coming by car,” Fuller explained.
Airport officials said research shows 480,000 visitors a year fly in to other airports and visit Gulf Shores. The initial goal is to get 10,000 of those customers because it’s the minimum number of passengers required to qualify for funding from airlines. The money goes toward upkeep of the terminal facilities.