By Rick Steelhammer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — To prepare for plans to drop an overnight air traffic controllers’ shift at Yeager Airport as part of federal sequester-mandated spending cuts, the Charleston airport’s governing board voted Thursday to install a remote-control system that allows approaching private pilots to activate runway lights.
In the absence of controllers in Yeager’s tower between midnight and 5 a.m., the airport’s runway, taxiway and centerline lights would be turned off. Airport Director Rick Atkinson said it would cost as much to leave the lights burning during the overnight shift for one month as it would to pay for the $13,400 remote-control system. Currently, air traffic controllers activate the lights as aircraft approach the airport.
The remote-control system is used at a number of airports that lack post-midnight air traffic controllers, including the airport serving Grand Rapids, Mich., which handles nearly three times the passenger volume that Yeager does.
The Federal Aviation Administration’s controller staffing cuts are expected to begin on April 7, but Atkinson said there has been recent speculation that airports with a military presence — such as the 130th Airlift Wing stationed at Yeager — might be spared.
“But even if we are spared from overnight closing, this equipment will be good to have as a backup system,” Atkinson said, adding that the cost of the remote-control system is expected to be reimbursed by a future FAA Airport Improvement Program grant.
Yeager averages only a few nightly landings of general-aviation aircraft between midnight and 5 a.m. No commercial flights are scheduled during that time.