Tower closings at 3 WV airports delayed - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Tower closings at 3 WV airports delayed

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Control towers at three West Virginia airports that were supposed to close Sunday will remain open for the time being.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday, April 5, that it will delay the closures of all 149 federal contract air traffic control towers until June 15. Last month, the FAA announced it would eliminate funding for these towers as part of the agency's required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration.

The three towers in West Virginia that were affected were at Lewisburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling.

In a statement on its website, the FAA said the additional time will allow it "to attempt to resolve multiple legal challenges to the closure decisions.  As part of the tower closure implementation process, the agency continues to consult with airports and operators and review appropriate risk mitigations. Extending the transition deadline will give the FAA and airports more time to execute the changes to the National Airspace System."

The extra time was welcome news to Terry Moore, manager of Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport at Parkersburg.

"We're looking really hard at seeing if there's a method of keeping the tower open as a stopgap until there is a federal budget," Moore said.

If the tower were to close completely, the airport would lose the equipment and the personnel, and getting all that back would be that much harder, Moore said.

The three towers that were to close are contract towers. That is, they are not operated and staffed by the FAA itself, as is the case at larger airports, but by a company that does the work under contract to the FAA.

Moore said the Parkersburg airport's board would have to find money for five employees, utilities, equipment, supplies and liability insurance until the beginning of the next federal fiscal year on Oct. 1.

The FAA's decision buys the state's three smaller airports two months' time to find the money, with the added benefit of having less money to find, Moore said.

Moore and others have said other airports can control traffic at the smaller airports, but having people on the ground provides an additional margin of safety.

Keeping the three towers open at a moderate level of safety through September would cost about $500,000, Moore said.

The money could come from an appropriation by the Legislature, from the state Department of Transportation or from the state Economic Development Authority, Moore said.

"That's not really my call. I don't know where the money lives down there," he said.

"It's still low risk, low cost, high return on your investment, and it's certainly cheaper now that the FAA says they're going to run it for another month."

Moore said he has not had any contact with the Wood County legislative delegation to see if any money can be found for the airports.

Mike McKown, director of the West Virginia State Budget Office, said he had not heard of any requests for state money for the three airports' control towers.

"I'm not sure where we would get half a million" in a time when many departments are taking hard cuts, McKown said.

On March 22, the FAA announced that it would stop federal funding for 149 contract towers across the country. A phased, four-week closure process was scheduled to begin this Sunday, April 7. That phased closure process will no longer occur. Instead, the FAA will stop funding all 149 towers on June 15 and will close the facilities unless the airports decide to continue operations as a nonfederal contract tower.