Budget failure leaves airport tower in limbo

WILLIAMSTOWN – As the federal government shuts down after the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate failed to reach an agreement for funding, the fate of air traffic control towers is again up in the air.

“We may be looking at trying to keep the tower going for a few months,” said Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport manager Terry Moore.

On March 22, after a month of discussions, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would close 149 federally contracted towers across the country at smaller airports with the local tower as one of those due to a required part of a $637 million cut from the office’s budget under federal sequestration.

In May, the FAA announced those towers in jeopardy would be funded through September. These towers are contracted through three companies and paid for by the FAA and have been kept open this summer following the rearranging of existing Airport Improvement Project (AIP) funds following Congress’ passage of funding bills to clear up air traffic controller furlough issues.

With this new fiscal year having started and Congress without a budget, Moore said he does not know what will happen next.

“Right now, we are OK,” Moore said. “The shutdown does not currently affect the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) or the tower operations.”

This shutdown is for Congress-deemed, non-essential federal functions. It is unknown how long it will last or how it might end.

Moore added the tower situation could easily and quickly change and, if that occurs, the Wood County Airport Authority, the facility’s managing arm, would have to decide what to do.

During discussions this spring, he went on a campaign around the area to drum up support and possible funds to keep the tower going for a short time. If funding is again cut, he could be asking for funds and support again.

“In the spring we decided that if funding is cut and there is a chance it could be reinstated, we would do what we could to keep it open ourselves,” Moore said. “As long as there is a relatively short period we need to fund the tower, I think it is possible.”

It is unknown how much money it will cost to operate the tower for the estimated three months in which the tower will need funding while Congress works on a budget.

Moore said he is expecting the cost to keep the tower staffed and running to be between $60,000 and $95,000.

“We are all right for now, but we need to keep an eye on what is going on in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There is a possibility full funding will be reinstated, but they could also choose to cut it completely.”

If the air traffic control towers are not funded in the next federal budget, Moore said there is no point to use local funds to keep the tower operational.

“Without future federal funding why spend the money to just see the tower close, there’s no reason to spend funds on something that will close any way,” Moore added.