No official funding commitments have been made thus far. But Tom McKim, chairman of the Airport Commission of Forsyth County, said initial conversations have begun with the N.C. Division of Aviation and the DataMax Foundation, the nonprofit foundation of Winston-Salem-based debt collection agency DataMax Corp., to provide some funding for the tower.
The Smith Reynolds tower, slated to close June 15, is one of 149 contract towers that was scheduled to be closed due to sequester cuts.
Airport officials are crafting their contingency plan after legislation passed by Congress last month lifted furloughs on air traffic control workers, but did not explicitly protect the tower program.
McKim is nevertheless optimistic that Smith Reynolds will “make the cut” if and when the Federal Aviation Administration does decide to continue funding for the towers.
“At the same time, we can’t assume that and so we are trying to craft contingency plans that would allow us to keep the tower in operation, albeit likely on a reduced basis,” he said.
At present, it costs between $200,000 and $300,000 to operate the tower annually. A staff of five people operate the tower seven days a week.
McKim hasn’t done the final math on what it would cost to operate the facility independently, but does believes it can be done for less. Even so, “it would still be a significant line item on the budget for the airport,” he said.
Robert Egleston, CEO of the DataMax Foundation, said his organization — which supports the greater Forsyth County area through investments in public education, entrepreneurship and business-climate enrichment and has provided grants for airport projects previously — doesn’t have the means to fund the facility infinitely but could help to “bridge the gap” if FAA funding ceases.
To that end, it is considering the possibility of providing up to $100,000 spread out over a two-year period to help keep the facility open.