FAA plans cutbacks at WV airports if sequestration happens - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

FAA plans cutbacks at WV airports if sequestration happens

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Air traffic control towers at most airports in West Virginia would close in April under a sequestration plan announced by the Federal Aviation Administration on Friday.

The FAA said it would close control towers at Tri-State Airport near Huntington, North Central West Virginia Airport at Bridgeport, Wheeling Ohio County Airport at Wheeling, Greenbrier Valley Airport at Lewisburg and Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport at Parkersburg.

The FAA also said it would eliminate the overnight shift at Charleston's Yeager Airport and at Tri-State.

"We will begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April," the FAA announcement said.

The overall plan involves closing more than 100 air traffic control facilities; eliminating the overnight shift at over 60 facilities; and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment, the FAA said.

"All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions," the FAA said,

Brian Belcher, spokesman for Yeager Airport, said the airport has not had any direct contact with the FAA about the cutbacks yet.

"We do have some concerns about it. We believe that means it would be closed between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m.," he said. The last commercial flight arrives around 11:45 p.m., so the tower closure would not affect passenger flights, he said

Aircraft for UPS and Federal Express do use the airport in the overnight hours, as do private aircraft. How they would be affected has yet to be seen, Belcher said.

At other airports, aircraft land without a tower, so it would remain to be seen what would happen at Yeager if sequestration goes into effect and the cuts are made, Belcher said.

Jerry Brienza, general manager of Tri-State Airport, said, "We're obviously hoping that the sequestration does not happen and everything is fully funded. If by chance it is not, we don't think our passengers will see any changes. Sequestration will mostly affect the government operations such as the FAA and TSA."

Brienza said he is confident issues will be resolved.

"That would be a very dangerous and poor decision from the FAA to shut down towers across the nation" because the business world and US economy operates through air travel, he said.

"You can't bring that to a screeching halt.

"We've been operating on fiscal cliffs almost annually, it seems like. It's not a surprise there is another financial crisis coming up. Did we know we were being targeted or on a list of potential airport towers to be closed? Not until today, no.

"I'm pretty confident our passengers won't see any changes. That being said, we just never know what's going to happen. All we can say is we hope this gets resolved before sequestration takes effect."

If the FAA were to close the tower for the midnight shift, FedEx would be affected, as most of the planes serving its regional hub come in overnight, Brienza said.

Terry Moore, manager of Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport, said he had heard something like this was in the works.

"It has been coming out today on my correspondence I usually receive from my professional organizations," he said. "I talked to my people about it earlier today so they would be aware something is going on, (that) there might be some impact on the airport and they're not totally blindsided if something happens."

"We're a little concerned," he continued. "It's still unclear how the FAA and other organizations will react. How they react will affect how severely injured the airport is. The FAA isn't the only federal organization here. Other things that are federally funded include the tower and navigational aid maintenance, airport improvement funding, airlines with essential air service and TSA through the Homeland Security budget.

"One more too: Military air makes up roughly 20 percent of my budget. I would assume if there are cuts that their aviation flight hours will be reduced, which means I'll have reduced military traffic by whatever that percentage is, and that will of course affect my budget because I sell them fuel – that's one piece people don't think about."

Moore said the airport itself has only 12 employees. There are four or five in the tower another seven or eight at the Transportation Security Administration and four or five at the airline. All would suffer some level of impact if the FAA goes through with its cuts, he said.

"It is unclear, and of course we're uncomfortable," Moore said.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller's office issued this statement around 4:30 p.m. Friday:

"These reckless across-the-board spending cuts to federal programs will have real impacts on our daily lives and our economy.  Everyone who travels for business or pleasure will be adversely affected.  The Administration will never compromise our aviation safety, but practically closing airports in small communities by eliminating air traffic control services will be devastating to local economies. Instead of taking a hammer to federal responsibilities that millions will rely on this year, I support a balanced approach that asks the very wealthiest to do their share to support the country and targeted deficit reduction that doesn't compromise necessary programs for the majority of Americans."

Sen. Joe Manchin's office issued this statement at about 5 p.m.:

"Senator Manchin believes that sequestration is a flawed and dangerous mechanism to reduce our spending. The Essential Air Service is vital to West Virginia. Sequestration is the wrong way to address our budget deficit, which is why Senator Manchin has pushed for a big fix that is balanced and puts our debt on a sustainable path."