Despite appeals, FAA will cut Concord airport tower funding

Concord officials looking at options

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Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2013 8:30 am

CONCORC, N.C. -- Concord Regional Airport will lose funding for its control tower despite appeals, Federal Aviation Administration officials confirmed Friday.

Concord Regional Airport is one of 149 towers nationwide that will lose funding as a part of sequestration cuts. The tower closing will be done over a four-week period beginning April 7, according to a letter from FAA Chief Operating Officer David Grizzle.

“It’s disappointing that the tower continues to be on the closed list,” Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt said, adding that the city made a strong case for keeping it funded.

Hiatt said Concord City Council has authorized him to negotiate a temporary two-month extension to the existing FAA contract with Connecticut-based Robinson Aviation Inc. for seven air traffic controllers at Concord Regional. The city will use the two months to look for a permanent solution to keeping the tower open, but Hiatt said the city likely could not afford to keep it open out of its current budget.

Hiatt estimates the contract will cost roughly $50,000 a month, but said he will not know for sure until the FAA releases more information to the city.

With or without a tower, though, “the airport will continue to be open and we will continue to have a high level of customer service and a great facility,” Hiatt said. “We were unusual in that we had a tower … and it was because we have a very unique airport and customer base.”

The City of Concord owns both the airport and the control tower even though the FAA has supplied the staffing up until now. The FAA staffs larger airports directly.

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

Written appeals were accepted by the FAA through March 13, local officials said. A final decision was made Friday. Following the appeals process, funding for 24 regional control towers was restored while 16 were placed in a cost-share program. No North Carolina towers were saved.

The FAA has a $9.7 billion budget. Cutting funding for regional control towers will save about $50 million.

Concord Regional Airport is the busiest general aviation airport in North Carolina, and the fifth-busiest airport in the state. In 2012, Concord Regional Airport had 59,811 landings and take offs, according to Concord officials. That included 3,959 commercial flights. The number of passenger boardings is up 3,000 percent in the last four years to 10,961.

NASCAR teams frequently use Concord Regional Airport, which is equipped to handle 737s now. Concord and Cabarrus County officials have been worried about how losing tower funding would impact those and other clients who use larger aircraft.

In recent years, the FAA, the state and Concord have invested in improvements to the runway and a design for a new taller control tower to help safely land the 737s at the airport. The FAA and the state paid for about 90 percent of the funding for those improvements.

Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, Council Member John Sweat, Aviation Director Rick Cloutier and John Cox, the president and CEO of the Cabarrus Economic Development Corporation and the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce met with FAA officials in Washington, D.C., to ask that the airports tower funding be taken off the chopping block. Hiatt followed that meeting up with a written appeal to the FAA.

There are no federal aviation regulations that would prohibit any of Concord Regional Airport’s customers from continuing to land and take off there even without a tower, Hiatt said. The decision to land a 737 – or any aircraft – at an airport with no tower is entirely up to the owner of the aircraft, Hiatt said.

With no tower, pilots must rely on communications directly with other pilots to avoid collisions.

Contact reporter Karen Cimino Wilson: 704-789-9141.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Concord Regional Airport will lose funding for its control tower, Federal Aviation Administration officials confirmed Friday.

Local officials went to Washington, D.C., to appeal to FAA officials in person last week and filed a written appeal, but the FAA has decided to move ahead with a list of 149 regional airports that will lose funding.

The tower closing will be done over a four-week period beginning April 7. The cuts are a result of sequestration. The U.S. Department of Transportation was asked to cut about $1 billion from its budget. About $637 million of that is coming from the FAA budget.

Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt said Concord City Council has authorized him to negotiate a two-month extension to the existing contract for seven air traffic controllers at Concord Regional Airport. The city will use that time to exhaust every option to keep the tower open permanently.

Hiatt estimates the contract will cost roughly $50,000 a month, but will not know for sure until the FAA releases more information to the city.

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