Wednesday, March 20, 2013

FAA delays tower decision

Response expected March 22

Express Staff Writer

The Federal Aviation Administration said last week that it was “overwhelmed” by appeals from airports hoping to keep their air traffic control towers open in the face of federal cuts, and won’t be able to make a decision on Friedman Memorial Airport’s tower until later this week.

Friedman Memorial Airport Manager Rick Baird said his office received an email from the FAA last week stating that they it had originally intended to make a decision last Friday, March 15, but that the date has been pushed to Friday, March 22.

“We got an email … saying they were overwhelmed with appeals,” he said.

The tower’s possible closure is part of a series of federal budget cuts known as the sequester, which FAA officials have said would result in the reduced operations or closure of nearly 200 air traffic control towers across the nation and furloughs for many FAA employees.

The FAA pays for the operation of the Friedman Memorial Airport air traffic control tower,  which costs about $500,000 a year. Baird said earlier this month that in the event that the FAA chooses not to continue its tower funding, the Airport Authority board could choose to fund the tower’s operations itself or the tower could be funded by an outside entity.

Baird said his staff appealed the funding cut, which was set to take place April 7.

The appeal letter, dated March 10, cites “unique operational challenges” at Friedman, such as head-to-head approaches and departures that require more hands-on direction from the tower.

The letter states that closure of the tower at Friedman would place more of a burden on the air traffic control tower at Salt Lake City, especially during Presidents Day weekend and the week of Allen and Co.’s annual Sun Valley retreat. Those time periods see about 800 and 1,400 aircraft operations, respectively.

The three-page letter also points out the tower’s role in security during visits by government officials or foreign heads of state, the role of the tower in keeping the taxiway clear while aircraft are using the runway and the increased workload for Salt Lake City.

Brad Hoaglun, spokesman for Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the Idaho congressional delegation is working on an amendment to the continuing budget resolution that would give agencies facing cuts more freedom to decide where those cuts come from. That freedom could allow the FAA to keep more towers open, he said.

Kate Wutz:

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