Officials discuss keeping tower open

WILLIAMSTOWN – Officials and an interested party discussed the impending closure of the air traffic control tower at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport during the monthly Wood County Airport Authority meeting.

Airport manager Terry Moore along with board members John Pfalzgraf, Jeff McDougle and Wayne Dunn as well as pilot Jim Bennon, president of the Mid-Ohio Valley Aviation Association pilot’s organization, discussed options for the loss of the tower.

“The point is, there is no plan from the FAA’s (Federal Aviation Administration) side and they are just taking it all,” said Moore. “The lack of planning on the part of the FAA is abysmal.”

On March 22, after a month of discussions, the FAA announced it would close 149 towers across the country at smaller airports with the local tower as one of those.

” I think it is a blatant attack on rural areas,” Moore said. “Our congressional delegation has fought for years to allow us to have a level playing field and allow us to compete with metro areas and now they are letting us be cut.”

The local tower is on the list to be closed on May 5. Moore said he has no idea how this change will affect the facility.

“I hope the impact is minimal, but it will be later in the season when charter companies aren’t calling that we will know,” he said. “It is hard to quantify the loss of the tower.”

Bennon asked if there is a way the airport can take over the operations to keep the tower open on its own, without the FAA’s aid. The tower’s employees are provided by the Federal Aviation Administration through a contract with a company in Missouri to provide qualified employees to the tower.

“I wouldn’t advocate funding the tower ourselves without a finite goal and full knowledge of the cost.”

Authority member Jeff McDougle pointed out the liability insurance to fund the tower would be costly.

“It would have to be hundreds of thousands,” Moore added.

Moore added the aggravation he and others in his position have with the FAA’s decision is it appears the federal officials did not look at options other than closure.

“We were always willing to cut hours of operation, the problem is that we were never asked,” he said. “I think the direction is that it would be reduced all right but fairly.”

Moore continued he has considered using some of the $150,000 federal Airport Improvement Project funds to keep the tower open for a little while.

“I would like to use the AIP funding to keep the tower going for 90 days or so,” he said. “I’ve already been allocated that money. I just wish they would let me spend it on things I consider highly important.”

Moore and other invited officials will be meeting with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., today to discuss where the airport goes from here.

Tower operations allow pilots to know where other aircraft are in the air and on the ground and where it is safe to go. Losing that safety is the main concern.

Locally, many larger airplanes from Andrews Air Force Base use the aid of local tower employees doing touch-and-go landings at the airport. Moore said the airport uses the fact they have a tower to campaign to get military aircraft to do touch-and-goes at the facility.

Those flights will likely end when the tower operations close.

The towers will close as part of $85 billion in federal spending cuts across the government. The closures are part of $637 million the FAA must cut by Sept. 30.

In other business:

  • The number of passengers that used the commercial service to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport was at 665 for March, which leaves the first quarter of 2013 with 1,709 passengers; the best quarter for enplanements since 2006.

“It’s an excellent start to the year,” said authority president Pfalzgraf.