By: Dianne Stallings
The recent round of Federal Aviation Administration budget cuts won’t affect Sierra Blanca Regional Airport, says the manager of Ruidoso’s municipal aviation operation.
“They are aimed strictly at contract towers and smaller traffic use towers,” Airport Manager Dave Pearce said Monday (today). “The FAA has agreements with areas where the traffic justifies, to pay for a private corporation to staff a tower with certified personnel. There are a number of them in the United States and it’s been a very good thing.”
Sierra Blanca isn’t on the radar because it doesn’t have a tower, he said.
But the cuts are a concern because closing a tower the FAA already determined needs air traffic control is a safety and traffic management concern, he said.
The city of Santa Fe is protesting the closure of its air traffic tower, according to information from that municipality. Officials there were notified at noon Friday that their tower is one of 149 federal contract towers on the FAA closure list as part of a four-week phased closure beginning April 7.
On March 7, when they first learned the tower was targeted, Santa Fe officials wrote a letter strongly disagreeing with the FAA’s decision, and contended that the Santa Fe air traffic tower is vital to the national interest, to the state of New Mexico and to the city of Santa Fe. At that time, FAA bureaucrats proposed to close 189 contract air traffic control towers as part of the agency’s plan to meet the $637 million in cuts required under budget sequestration. Because members of Congress could not reach a budget agreement, sequestration, which entails the permanent cancellation of budgetary resources by a uniform percentage, was initiated.
They would consider keeping open any of those towers, if doing so would be in the national interest, they stated. National interest considerations included that closure would create significant threats to national security as determined by the FAA in consultation with the Department of Defense or the Department of Homeland Security; that significant, adverse economic impact beyond the impact on a local community, would occur; that a significant impact on multi-state transportation, communication or banking/financial networks would occur; or that an airport currently served by a contract tower is a critical diversionary airport to a large hub. After consultation with the national agencies, 24 federal contract towers were pulled from the list and will remain open.
An additional 16 federal contract towers under the “cost share” program will be able to remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds every fiscal year for these towers. The budgeted money is subject to sequestration, but the required 5 percent cut will not result in tower closures.
“The question is, does it make sense to lay these people off and put them on unemployment, no longer contributing to the economy,” Pearce said. “It’s a very concerning situation.”