|A new air control tower is headed for TVC.
Development of a new, taller air traffic control tower soon will get underway, say Cherry Capital Airport officials who recently finalized details of a contract for the multi-million dollar project with The Christman Company.
While the new 142-foot tower won’t be operational until 2013, construction is expected to be complete in the next couple of years, says Ron Hubbard, FAA air traffic manager at the airport. The long-awaited project is doubling the height of the current tower.
“The current tower was built in 1975, with a 20-year expected lifespan,” Hubbard says. “So it’s up and operational but it’s outlived its usefulness. We’ve been pursuing (a new tower) for more than 10 years now and to see that finally becoming a reality is very exciting.”
The taller height will give an improved view of the airport buildings and runways, which currently is somewhat hindered by a hangar that was built years ago, Hubbard says.
“That’s why we are going up so high, so we can see all the movement there is on the airport without an obstructed view,” he says.
The $8.7 million contract also includes building an attached 8,000-square-foot service center to house administrative staff, maintenance crew and equipment at the tower location; currently this space is in a separate location.
“Having us located several blocks from the tower is not actually the ideal, especially in the winter with the snow and ice,” he says of the current set-up. “We’ll be able to update our equipment and have everyone in the same service center. It will be very nice to have.”
Summer travel numbers
Summer traffic numbers are down slightly this year, says Steve Cassens, airport director.
“It’s been a busy summer, but the numbers at the airport are down because of the lack of seat capacity in the market,” Cassens says. “We’ve noticed both in May and June the traffic was down for us, that our passenger traffic was down.”
Passenger traffic was down in May 19 percent, down in June 13 percent, and down July 9 percent compared to 2009. Traffic was down 21 percent this May compared to last year at that time, and down 12 percent in June compared to 2009, he says.
Cassens attributes this to airlines opting to use fewer and smaller airplanes – at Cherry Capital and throughout the country – to save money.
“The airlines have decreased the number of seats that might be available to us in any one day, and that’s been occurring across the country,” he says. “The airlines were looking to eliminate over 20 percent of their capacity over the past several years. They wanted to cut back the number of airplanes in the sky.”
What does this mean for passengers? “There will be fewer seats available, not just in Traverse City, but across the board,” Cassens says. “And the cost of travel will increase.”
Airport officials are doing what they can to alleviate this, however, he adds.
“One of the things we’re doing is asking what we can do to try and increase capacity in our market. We have been out talking to carriers to increase capacity in our market,” he says.
To that end, negotiations continue between airport officials and United Airlines to start up a direct flight to Denver, Co., establishing a fourth direct flight – Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis are the others – and creating a gateway to west coast destinations, Cassens says. He’s unsure when a deal may be finalized.
Cherry Country Traditions, the airport’s new eatery, opened this summer and is doing well, Cassens says. Heather and Tom Lemcool, operators of the airport gift shop, are behind the new restaurant, which is located in the prior coffee shop spot and underwent a $56,000 facelift to include booth seating and other amenities such as a TV on one wall.
The restaurant serves beer and wine, and travelers now can purchase bottles of local wine to take onto the plane because it’s beyond the airport check point. Cherry Country Traditions will continue to add to its menu this fall, as well as install additional counter space for kitchen preparations.