Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Airport tower staffing issue resolved

Express Staff Writer

Concerns about the operating hours of Friedman Memorial Airport control tower have been resolved.

The tower will remain manned and operating as usual, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to Airport Manager Rick Baird.

In January, tower control chief Dan Gearhart sought permission from the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority to reduce manning by two hours—until 9 p.m.—to give him more flexibility in scheduling shifts for the tower's five controllers.

The Friedman board was caught between the problem of possibly stressed controllers and manning the tower for the day's last airline flights.

The governing board thereafter authorized a one-hour reduction to a 10 p.m. closing.

Friedman's tower is operated by a private international firm, Serco, under contract to the Federal Aviation Administration.

However, Baird said he met in Washington with FAA and Serco officials to discuss the manning issue. He said all agreed the present operating arrangement is satisfactory.

Friedman's aircraft traffic fluctuates during the seasons. Baird said, for example, that April, May and November are slow months, with about 2,500 aircraft movements of all types. July, August and September traffic soars, as high as 8,000 to 9,000 aircraft operations.

However, since the Friedman tower does not operate radar, a single controller can man the tower during slack hours of the day.

Airport control tower manning became an issue last week when a Comair regional jet took off on the wrong, shorter runway at the Lexington, Ky., airport and crashed, killing 49 passengers and crew.

The FAA admitted the tower, which operates radar, was undermanned at the time with only one controller.

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