By: SCOTT ROGERS
MONROE, La. — Monroe Regional Airport might lose its air control tower because of federal cuts, but airport Manager Ron Phillips said it would remain open.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday of the closing of 100 airport towers at airports that have 150,000 flights or fewer each year if automatic spending cuts go into effect Friday, March 1.
Monroe Regional Airport is one of 200 airports on a list the Federal Aviation Administration says it will cut by half. Those 100 towers would close by April 1.
Shreveport’s airport, two airports in Lake Charles — the Lake Charles Regional Airport and Chennault International — and Lakefront Airport in New Orleans are the other airports in Louisiana on that list.
“The airport is going to stay open, and we will continue to operate,” Phillips said.
If Monroe’s control tower is closed, local air traffic control could be handled at another location, most likely Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center, Phillips said.
Monroe Regional Airport has about 5,000 flights each year.
“The employees at the tower would lose their jobs, and that’s an economic loss, but all of this really is new to us and we’re trying to assess the overall impact of this,” Phillips said.
The tower operates from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Phillips said control tower officials declined to release the number of employees for security reasons.
Military operations would cease at the Monroe Regional Airport, but all commercial and general aviation activities would resume without any “significant impact,” Phillips said.
Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said he was shocked Friday when he learned about the news from the Transportation Department.
He called on Congress and Louisiana’s delegation to reach a compromise on the budget to prevent the loss of jobs at airports across the country.
“I think the American people will start to see — because of the division in Washington, D.C. — the impact and realization of our federal delegation not working together. Airports may close and people will lose their jobs. Their actions will negatively impact us,” Mayo said. “It’s time our delegation and Congress work together to get us out of this mess. All of this is because of the division in Washington and because of this disagreement on how the budget should be handled. The decisions that are being proposed are a result of people not working together for the good of the American people.”
U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, said Friday’s announcement was political scare tactics.
“I believe the sequestration is going to take place, and my position at this point is we should let it take place,” Alexander said. “The president wants $1 trillion in new taxes, and that’s not going to happen. I’m not sure how the cuts will impact the economy because even the experts don’t have a consensus, but I think we’re going to find out.”
Sue Nicholson, president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, said anything that diminishes service would “be detrimental to our entire regional economy. Since this airport serves an entire region, it’s doesn’t seem reasonable that it’s (tower) would be among those closed.”
“Reliable commercial air service into and out of Monroe is important for CenturyLink’s business,” said CenturyLink spokesman Annmarie Sartor. “We understand the importance of national fiscal responsibility, but like other citizens of this area, we are hopeful outcomes that negatively impact economic, business and job growth can be avoided.”