In my opinion, and I have been manager at the Grand Strand Airport for over 27 years, the controversy over the closing of the tower at the Grand Strand Airport requires a serious review. The comments by North Myrtle Beach officials, letters to the editor, The Sun News article, and some pilots indicate that the tower is a nice thing, but not required. I don’t agree.
Let’s look at some facts. It is a small airport; there are procedures in place for pilots to operate out of an airport without a tower, but the operations at the Grand Strand Airport, especially in the summer, are unique. First, there are just as many general aviation operations (takeoffs and landings) at GSA as there are at Myrtle Beach International, about 50,000 per year.
A high percentage of these are in the summer. These operations are a mixture of day to day traffic, helicopter sightseeing flights, flight training, banner towing, WACO sightseeing rides, and parachute jumping. The tower operations provide priority as to when jumpers can jump, who can taxi, cross the runway, drop and pickup banners, takeoff, and land. Without the tower, no one sets the priority and it is up to the individual pilot to decide where he stands in the sequence based on what he has heard over the radio. With all of these separate types of operations it is easy to miss some of the calls.
Now the tower has control over the parachute jumps depending on traffic. Without the tower, parachute jumps will be at the discretion of the jump plane. Banner towing involves banner planes taking off, landing, banner pickup, and drop. In addition, vehicles are required to cross the active runway to deliver banners and return them to the ramp. It is obvious that the operations at GSA are much more complicated than just airplanes taking off and landing. With all of the confusion caused by the multiple operations don’t be surprised if there is a serious accident at GSA this summer.
Between Horry County Council, the director of airports, and maybe with the help of the city of North Myrtle Beach, it seems to me there should be a serious look at funding the tower at GSA at least through the summer.
The writer is manager of Ramp 66 at Grand Strand Airport.