By Adam Bell
Monroe officials don’t believe their airport will be hurt by the loss of federal funding for air traffic control towers at other regional airports.
Unlike the airports in Concord and Hickory, Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport does not have a control tower, city spokesman Pete Hovanec said.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport directs the bigger aircraft into Monroe, such as multi-passenger jets.
Smaller aircraft in Monroe do not require guidance from a tower, but like bigger aircraft, are responsible for making their own announcements about their presence on the ground or in the air.
Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was ending federal funding for the control towers at Concord Regional Airport and Hickory Regional Airport, part of nationwide cuts totaling $637 million.
Because of mandatory federal budget cuts, 149 federally funded control towers run by contractors must be closed nationwide.
Eight are in the Carolinas.
On top of that, Charlotte Douglas air traffic controllers are facing furloughs because of budget cuts, and experts say all of the reductions could mean significant travel delays in the region.
The cuts were part of $1 billion in mandatory reductions that the FAA’s parent agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, was required to make.
The airports whose towers are affected by the cuts will stay open, but some air traffic control responsibility will move to regional centers like Charlotte.
Hovanec said he did not think the furloughs would affect Monroe’s operations either.
“We don’t think there will be any substantial loss or gain” because of the federal cuts, he added.
If anything, Hovanec said, the loss of the towers may “level the playing field a little” in trying to recruit companies to the area even though the airport does not have a tower.
Monroe has wanted the state to do a study to determine whether a tower is needed at the airport, but the state has so far not moved to provide funding for the study.
Monroe’s airport has 51,500 operations a year, or about 141 a day, including takeoffs and landings, Hovanec said, citing FAA data.
By comparison, he said, Concord has 60,600 a year, or 166 a day, and Hickory has 40,504, or 110 a day.
The city-owned airport in Monroe, like other regional airports around North Carolina, has a significant economic impact on the area.
A recent study for the state estimated that Monroe’s airport had an annual economic impact of nearly $22.3 million, was directly or indirectly responsible for 150 jobs and generated $571,000 in state and local taxes.
The airport also is a vital component for many of the aerospace and other companies around the area.
And early this year, the airport received final federal approval to build a customs department.
When it opens by summer 2014, it will be the first general aviation airport in North or South Carolina with a customs department.
Having a customs department allows international flights to land at the Monroe airport, a significant boost for the facility and a nice business recruiting tool for the city.
Because the city is paying for the customs department, Hovanec said he does not expect any of the budget cuts to affect that project.