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Local airport officials criticize FAA decision to close towers

Airport officials at Lancaster and Capital City airports criticized the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision announced Friday to close air traffic control towers at the two sites.

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Local News
05/10/13

Airport towers will remain open

The Department of Transportation announcing Friday that all 149 air traffic control towers on the chopping block will now stay open for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year. This includes the Lancaster Airport and Capital City Airport towers.

STATEMENT FROM AAAE/USCTA:

Alexandria, VA – J. Spencer Dickerson, Executive Director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association (USCTA), released the following statement in response to the decision today by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to continue operations through the fiscal year at 149 contract towers previously scheduled for closure on June 15:

“We are grateful that the leaders of DOT and the Federal Aviation Administration have moved to utilize the clear authority provided by the Congress to keep contract towers open and operational beyond June 15. The broad coalition of communities, airports, air traffic controllers, aviation system users, and Members of Congress that has emerged in recent months united in the fight to keep contract towers open is a testament to the important role these facilities play in enhancing the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system. In particular, we appreciate the leadership of the dozens of senators and members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have worked diligently to ensure that these important air traffic facilities remain open now and well into the future. Their dedication and determination give us great hope for the long-term success of the Contract Tower Program.”

The USCTA is an affiliate organization of the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE).

STATEMENT FROM U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that USDOT has determined that the recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep the 149 low activity contract towers originally slated for closure in June open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The FAA will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate approximately $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system.

Local News
05/03/13

Future of airport towers still uncertain

The future of some air traffic control towers is still uncertain. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says because of newly passed legislation, federal budget cuts will not close down 149 air traffic control towers. The legislation allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to move money. Enough money to end all air traffic control furloughs and keep the towers open. But the part about the towers isn’t spelled out in the bill, and the FAA is still deciding what they will do.

The uncertainty concerns people like Amy St Pierre, an Air Traffic Control Manager at the Lancaster Airport. “Our job is to separate aircraft and be efficient and keep them safe when they fly at Lancaster,” said St Pierre. “We love to talk to airplanes and we never felt before that we had to justify why. We always been keeping planes safe and we haven’t had to say that that’s why we do what we do.”

Lancaster airport is the 4th busiest in the state, with 90,000 takeoffs and landings a year. “We see everything from military aircrafts, helicopters, jets, single engine aircrafts, and the pilots that fly those aircrafts range in professionalism from professional pilots to student pilots,” said St Pierre. “It is a safety factor. If things remain the way they are, when it comes to the complexity of the planes that fly in here and the operations, and if it remains that way, I think it will deter people from flying here,” she said. “They are all supposed to talk on Unicom Frequency. If it isn’t towered anymore these pilots are not required to be on that frequency, but you hope they are.”

Pilot Jim Hamill is also concerned about the possibility of the tower closing. “Little Cessnas may be going 70 to 80 miles per hour coming into the area, and you have 300 to 400 mile per hour jets they’re also coming in at the same time from all different directions,” he said. “You have crisscrossing runways. When you’re sitting at the end of runway three-one you’re not going to see the jet taking off on two-six.  The two runways intersect over there and you’re liable to meet at 300 feet in the air over the runway. There’s just too much potential for disaster. You take away that layer of safety there will be an accident and somebody is going to get hurt or killed.”

Another concern for them is student pilot programs at the airport. “A student pilot to learn to fly and to get their license they have to fly to a controlled field and do a minimum of three takeoffs and landings,” said St Pierre. “They’re just learning. They can sometimes get confused about where they are.  So we can find them and have an eye on them, and say you’re not there, you’re not east of the field you’re west of the field.” The closure could force student pilots do some of their practice at busier airports. “I would look at it more when you look at Philadelphia International Airport. They don’t entertain that type of flying. Harrisburg does some of that but they have a lot of other things going on.  They have a lot of commercial flights.”

“Your student pilots are often going to make mistakes. The controllers here are very friendly, very competent they’re going to catch those mistakes as they’re being made, and they’re going to correct them. You take away that and you’re going to have a real potential for disaster,” said Hamill.

faa

 

The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday it has suspended furloughs for air traffic controllers, after Congress pressured the Obama administration to end recent, widespread flight delays.

The agency said air traffic facilities will begin to return to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours and the system will resume normal operations by Sunday evening.

Congress approved a bipartisan bill Friday that it sent to President Obama and allowed the FAA to use up to $253 million from an airport improvement program and other accounts to halt the furloughs through the Sept. 30 end of the government’s fiscal year.

The furloughs that started Sunday resulted in thousands of delays and cancellations at major airports across the country, with FAA officials warning by late in the week that the situation, combined with weather problems, would continue to cause delays.

Republicans said Saturday the bill shows the Obama administration miscalculated by trying to “inflicting pain” on Americans by allowing massive cuts to the federal budget.

“There are some in the Obama administration who thought inflicting pain on the public would give the president more leverage to avoid making necessary spending cuts, and to impose more tax hikes on the American people,” said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Bill Shuster.

Washington allowed the cuts to begin in January, equaling $85 billion just this year, after Republicans would not agree to a plan by Democrats to increase taxes to help solve the country’s budget problems.

Meanwhile, President Obama on Saturday blamed Republicans – first for the cuts, known as sequester, and for the legislation that passed Friday with bipartisan support and that the president is prepared to sign.

“Republicans claimed victory when the sequester first took effect, and now they’ve decided it was a bad idea all along,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

At the start of the week, the Federal Aviation Administration began furloughing air traffic controllers, saying the mandated cuts were necessary and part of agency-wide furloughs.

Shuster, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the FAA could have averted the flight delays on its own by cutting costs elsewhere and adjusting work schedules.

His comments, the Republican response to this week’s presidential address, follow FAA Administrator Michael Huerta telling a Republican-led House committee Wednesday that the agency has few savings options and that it was cutting contracts to run control towers at smaller airports to help save roughly $400 million more.

Obama said Saturday the bill is a “Band-Aid” solution, instead of a solid, long-term plan.

A congressional leadership aide told Fox News the bill still needs a small,technical fix by the Senate on Monday or Tuesday before the president can officially sign it. However, the delay shouldn’t impact the FAA since it has the resources to end furloughs now and knew the fix was coming.

The cuts have affected all federal agencies, and the delays last week frustrated travelers enough to pressure Congress, before members left Friday for recess.

The president scolded lawmakers for helping the FAA while doing nothing to replace other cuts that he said harm federal employees, unemployed workers and preschoolers in Head Start.

“Maybe because they fly home each weekend, the members of Congress who insisted these cuts take hold finally realized that they actually apply to them, too,” he said.

Rushed through Congress with remarkable speed, the bill marked a shift for Democrats who had hoped the impact of the cuts would increase pressure on Republicans to reverse the broad cuts.

Republicans have rejected Obama’s proposal to replace the spending reductions with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

Faced with the prospect that emboldened Republicans will push to selectively undo other painful effects of the cuts, the White House said Friday that a piecemeal approach would be impractical, but wouldn’t definitely rule out signing other fixes.

Source: FOX NEWS

Travelers could be experiencing longer waits at the airport this week because of furloughs on air traffic controllers by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The furloughs are part of Sequestration, the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last month to balance the federal budget.

The FAA said in a statement that travelers can expect to see “a wide range of delays that will change throughout the day depending on staffing and weather related issues.”

Harrisburg International Spokesperson Scott Miller said HIA hasn’t seen much of a delay. He also said it is hard to tell where delays are coming from,”The number one cause of delays is weather, the second is usually mechanical issues,” he said.

While most air traffic controllers will lose one day of work every other week, Miller says those at HIA will be adjusting shifts instead of employees. They are also not filling positions when people leave.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said FAA officials could find no other way to cut $637 million from the agency’s budget as required by the sequester. FAA officials have said they have no choice but to furlough all 47,000 agency employees, including nearly 15,000 controllers.

The FAA has said that planes will have to take off and land less frequently, so the remaining controllers on duty will not get overloaded.

If you are flying anytime soon you are asked to check on your flight for delays and cancellations, and arrive early in preparation.

For flight delay information through the Air Traffic Control System Command Center click here

HIA delays

BWI delays

Local News
04/05/13

FAA delays closures of 149 control towers

(CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it will delay the closures of 149 federal-contract air traffic control towers until June 15.

Last month, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these regional airport towers to help it meet $637 million in forced spending cuts.

The tower closures had been scheduled to begin April 7, phased in over four weeks. The towers are low- or moderate-volume facilities staffed by contractors.

CNN’s Jim Barnett contributed to this story.

Local News
03/26/13

Save the towers

In just a few short weeks the air traffic control towers at Capital City Airport and Lancaster Airport will close. The closure is part of Federal budget cuts known as Sequestration.

Volunteers and supporters with Organizing for America rallied outside of the soon-to-be-closed Lancaster County Airport Tower to ask Congress to move forward finding a responsible and balanced approach to avoid the harsh cuts of the sequester.

“This airport was conceived in our community as an economic development driver, and certainly crippling it even more by making it less attractive for commercial flights is just not the way to do it,” said Lancaster City Council Member Jose Urdaneta. “This is local governments, local municipalities, suffering the consequences of Washington not doing the right thing.  I do not think that sequestration is affecting the right people, it is going to burden more on the middle class and the poor.”

David Walbor is one of many rallying to save the Lancaster tower. His uncle was an air traffic controller there for over 20 years. “I know from him personally the Lancaster Airport is one of the busiest airports on the East Coast because of the private pilots that land and take off from this facility. Taking away the tower reduces considerably the safety for all of those pilots and also for the general populace here in Lancaster county. The air traffic controller is an essential part at any airport.”

Although the rally was held at the Lancaster Airport, it was about more than just the tower. Organizers say cuts will be widespread, and hurt the middle class.

“People through this are going to be losing their jobs once again. You’re going to have unemployment, people are going to be without health insurance. That’s going to be more people on unemployment more people perhaps on welfare or medical assistance,” said Jim Cataldi, a Registered Nurse. “They’re going to be coming to me and to my place of employment and they’re going to be in worse condition, and end up staying longer.  We need to get the message out.  Jobs are going to be lost and that’s not going to help this country.”

We’re going to see middle class families being hurt with loss of tuition assistance, with loss of teacher jobs, even our preparedness by the loss of civil jobs through our military. So many different things that are not a responsible way to balance a budget,” said Urdaneta. “No one is denying the fact that we need to be more responsible. No one is denying the fact that spending needs to be more level-headed in Washington, but certainly sequestration is not the way.”

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday plans to close the air traffic control towers at Lancaster and Capital City airports as part of the recently enacted federal budget cuts known as the sequester.

The two airports’ towers had been identified a few weeks ago as being considered for closure but the final decision came Friday as the sites were among 149 federal contract towers across the country slated to close beginning April 7. The closures will be phased in over four weeks, the FAA said.

The administration said in making its decision on which towers to close it factored in such things as national security, safety and economic impacts.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a news release. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

Officials at Lancaster and Capital City criticized the decision, citing concerns with safety and questioning the wisdom of the cuts.

At Lancaster Airport, director David Eberly said there are a combined 90,000 arrivals and departures each year, a number he said has never been higher.

He acknowledged pilots are trained in landing at airports without manned towers all over the country. But, he said Lancaster Airport presents challenges.

“To (land) with crossing runways, our runways cross in the middle, hidden taxiways, and runways not visible from each other, I just think it’s a dangerous situation,” said Eberly.

At Capital City, officials said the control tower currently is unmanned between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. daily.

Timothy Edwards, executive director of the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, said he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision, he pointed out the airport will remain open.

“We know the government spends way too much money,” said Harrisburg International Airport spokesman Scott Miller. “We’re not exactly sure why a program that’s been effective and efficient over the years is being cut by 60 to 70 percent nationwide.”

lancasterairport

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reached the decision that 149 federal contract towers will close beginning April 7 as part of the agency’s sequestration implementation plan on Friday. The agency has made the decision to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been previously proposed for closure because doing so would have a negative impact on the national interest. Three Pennsylvania towers, including the Capital City and Lancaster airports – will be shut down under the plan.

An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. These cost-share program funds are subject to sequestration but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.

“We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration.”

“We will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

In early March, FAA proposed to close 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of its plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration and announced that it would consider keeping open any of these towers if doing so would be in the national interest.

The national interest considerations included: (1) significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security; (2) significant, adverse economic impact that is beyond the impact on a local community; (3) significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks; and (4) the extent to which an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub.

In addition to reviewing materials submitted on behalf of towers on the potential closure list, DOT consulted with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and conducted operational assessments of each potential tower closure on the national air transportation system.

Some communities will elect to participate in FAA’s non-federal tower program and assume the cost of continued, on-site air traffic control services at their airport (see Advisory Circular AC 90-93A.) The FAA is committed to facilitating this transition.

The FAA will begin a four-week phased closure of the 149 federal contract towers beginning on April 7.

To view the FAA Contract Tower Closure List click here

Source: Federal Aviation Administration

Starting April 7, sequestration could soon put out the lights at 173 air traffic control towers across the nation.

Due to the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1, the FAA must slash $600 million from its budget.

Two of the towers on the FAA’s list of possible closures are in central Pennsylvania, serving the Lancaster Airport in Manheim Township, Lancaster County and the Capital City Airport in Fairview Township, York County.

The Lancaster Airport is the 4th busiest in the state, averaging 90,000 takeoffs and landings per year.

“Forty to 60 airplanes land and take off per hour,” said Airport Director David Eberly. “That’s what has me concerned, that much volume, that much traffic without a tower, keeping control, keeping separation and keeping people safe.”

Commercial pilot John Cruce of Sun Air, flies a route between the Lancaster Airport and Washington Dulles.

“It’s great having these guys here looking out for us,”  he said.

For pilots like Cruce, who buckle in and use the Lancaster Airport regularly, the potential loss of the tower is troubling news.

“Taking a tower out, they can land on whatever runway they want, they’re not even required to have radios when there’s no tower,” he said.

If the Lancaster Airport tower is closed, seven air traffic controllers would lose their jobs.

Without them, it’ll be up to the pilots to communicate with one another about their positions for takeoffs and landings.

For a busy airport like Lancaster’s, with more than one runway, it’s far from ideal.

“From my perspective in operating an airport, how without a tower, at the level and the numbers we have here at Lancaster, it’s just an unsafe situation,” Eberly said.

None of the closures are set in stone just yet. Airports can send letters in to the FAA explaining why their towers should be kept open. They’ll be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The decision will be based on national impact, not on local impact.

Many are also hoping our Congressional leaders can come up with some alternative budget cuts to save the towers.

If the Capital City Airport tower is closed, five people would lose their jobs.

To see the FAA’s full list of potential tower closures, click here.

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