By Stephanie Springer
ALBANY, GA (WALB) – City leaders are considering whether to take over the control tower at Southwest Regional Airport to save it from closing. The Aviation Commission asked commissioners to take over oversight and maintenance.
It would cost several hundred thousand dollars a year, but supporters say it could have a tremendous economic impact.
Albany has the second largest cargo airport in Georgia. Without an FAA tower, Albany air traffic control will be turned over to Jacksonville, Florida. That could create delays in shipments and hurt our region’s cargo business.
“Sequestration impacts us locally. We always think about what they are going in Washington but it’s happening to us here,” said Commissioner Ivey Hines.
The Albany Airport tower is one of five towers in Georgia slated to close due to sequestration cuts. Local leaders say that would be detrimental to our entire region.
“What was going through my mind, was this is a tower that can’t be closed? It is essential to economic development to Albany and southwest Georgia,” said Mayor Dorothy Hubbard.
If it closes, it affects how planes enter and exit the airport. And for the planes on the ground, they would have to wait their turn which could cause a delay. That means that important package you had shipped overnight, or an important business delivery could be delayed.
If Albany’s tower shuts down. It also can influence whether a business might decide to locate here. The mayor says the tower is a vital piece of Albany because it affects delivery of cargo in the entire southwest Georgia region.
“We feel that if we allow the FAA to take the tower we would never get the tower and the personnel back.”
It’s becoming common for local governments to pick up extra costs after state or federal cuts. Manning the tower and maintaining the equipment and software would cost up to half a million dollars a year.
“It becomes an emergency for us because if they are going to close it on May 5th, we need to be prepared or at least have the discussions as of what are the next steps. We got to pay the money it’s going to cost us,” said Hubbard.
City leaders say they knew how valuable it would be to the area when they built it. Now, they must decide whether to pay the money it will cost to keep up the tower in order to maintain that value.
Commissioners asked the city manager James Taylor to bring back recommendations so they can decide where to go next. They must make that decision by May 5th.