The skies over Grayson County’s North Texas Regional Airport — Perrin Field should be a little safer soon. County commissioners Tuesday approved a request to increase the number of during which the tower at NTRA is staffed by two air traffic controllers at once.
The $21,420 increase in costs for air traffic controllers is important, NTRA Director Mike Shahan said, because traffic at the airport has increased since the U.S. Aviation flight school opened there. He said when the Court approved a contract with ATC, the company that provides air traffic controllers for NTRA, in 2012, there were 33,000 operations a year at the airport. Operations, he said, are take offs or landings. In 2013, Shahan said, there were 77,000 operations. He said the use at the airport is up by an additional 5 percent so far in 2014.
That uptick in use is a two-edged sword, Shahan said. One the side, it means the county sells more fuel to planes and more people see the NTRA as an option for flying. On the downside, more operations means more wear and tear on those air traffic controllers.
Shahan said controllers don’t just talk to pilots while they are taking off or landing. The controllers also have to talk to the pilots while they are on the ground. If there is only one controller in the tower, he is doing all of that talking and that gets tough. The answer is to increase the number of hours during which there are two controllers in the tower. Then one can talk to the people on the ground while the other handles the people taking off or landing. Or, one can get up and leave the control room for a bit.
Commissioner Jeff Whitmire said he didn’t really see that much of an increase in traffic at the airport since the commissioners talked about the controllers during budget sessions over the summer. He wondered why Shahan didn’t bring that up then.
Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum said it was discussed then, but he told Shahan to bring it back before the Court if the increase became significant enough that it posed a safety problem. Shahan said that point has now been reached.
Next Whitmire asked why the County couldn’t just pass the increase in costs onto the flight school. Bynum said having a manned control tower was one of the considerations the school looked at when it picked NTRA as its location. Additionally, Shahan said the flight school, its employees and students spend around $7 million in Grayson County each year. He said the school currently pays $120,000 a year in rent and employs 40 people.
In the end, Bynum moved that the County approve the increase in the cost of air traffic controllers and Commissioner Bart Lawrence seconded the motion. Commissioners David Whitlock and Phyllis James voted in favor of the motion while Whitmire voted against it.
Commissioners also approved the following:
• an executed inter-local agreement with North Central Texas Council of Governments for cooperative purchasing of actuarial services;
• renewal of the County’ annual contract with RK Hall for asphalt;
• listing a tractor from Precinct 3 as surplus for trade in on a new one.