March 13, 2013 10:19:55 AM
Officials with the Golden Triangle Regional Airport say commercial flights will continue despite the possibility of federal funding for the airports' air traffic control tower being cut.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced last week it would be shutting off staff funding for seven air traffic control towers in the state and 180 nation-wide, as part of an effort to reduce spending by $600 million. The move is one of the latest effects of sequestration to hit the Golden Triangle.
Mike Hainsey, executive director at GTRA, said the airport is ready to supplement the funding lost for the first few months after the April 1 effective date. The tower is currently run by four employees and is active from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. Hainsey said its costs $30,000 per month to operate the tower.
With the announcement, the FAA stated that any tower closure that could be proven to adversely affect national interest, would be eligible for an exemption.
Hainsey said he has filed for an exemption, citing GTRA's collaboration with the Columbus Air Force Base as a compelling reason to keep the tower open. Hainsey said he should learn the status of the appeal Monday. The CAFB has been running training missions out of GTRA while work is underway on the main runway at the base.
An air traffic control tower is needed in order for CAFB pilots to run their missions, and Hainsey said the base would be left without anywhere else to train.
"They will be forced to try to accomplish their mission with less than two-thirds of their capacity," Hainsey said.
The tower was opened in 2003 in order to increase the volume of flights and accommodate larger aircrafts. Though the smaller commercial planes and business jets would be able to continue flights to GTRA even with a closure, the jets used by the CAFB would be grounded.
After speaking with officials from the other six regional airports that face possible closures, Hainsey said he realizes that every single one of the towers has a national interest, and gaining exemption might be more competitive than anyone thought.
"That's why they were funded in the first place," he said.