Federal money will keep the air traffic control tower at Lynchburg Regional Airport open through at least Sept. 30, the end of the federal fiscal year.
Friday, the Department of Transportation said the money set aside by Congress last month to end controller furloughs and ease the effect of sequestration cuts on the air traffic control network also would be used to prevent the June 15 closure of 149 air traffic control towers staffed by contract workers through a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration. “I’m very relieved,” Lynchburg Airport Director Mark Courtney said Friday afternoon. “We’re certainly looking forward to having this breathing room.”
Courtney, like about 80 airport administrators across the country, had come up with an alternative local funding scheme to keep the tower open on a temporary basis until a more permanent solution could be found. Last month, he received Lynchburg City Council approval and briefed the Virginia Aviation Board on a plan to use state entitlement funds to keep the tower operating on a month-to-month basis for up to a year.
Courtney said the airport still has the contingency plan available if no permanent solution is established in the fiscal year 2014 budget, but he hopes the extra time will give airports like Lynchburg the chance to convince the federal government they need air traffic control service.
Of the airports facing the loss of their towers, Lynchburg Regional Airport was the eighth busiest and, of the top eight, the only one with commercial service, according to a federal database.
“We’ve clearly demonstrated that we are of a level that clearly requires air traffic services,” Courtney said.
Courtney credited Lynchburg’s congressional delegation and Virginia’s senators with supporting legislation to keep the towers open and pushing for bipartisan solutions to the air traffic control funding cuts.
“They were just invaluable in making this possible,” he said.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Sixth District, has released several statements calling for the government to find a way to prevent control tower closures, and Sen. Timothy M. Kaine recently met with Courtney and Lynchburg City Manager Kimball Payne to discuss the control tower situation.
Last week, Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette joined 69 other mayors and community leaders in signing a letter to FAA Administrator Micheal Huerta expressing their concerns about the planned closure of air traffic control towers.
“The broad coalition of communities, airports, air traffic controllers, aviation system users, and Members of Congress that has emerged in recent months united in the fight to keep contract towers open is a testament to the important role these facilities play in enhancing the safety and efficiency of the nation’s aviation system,” J. Spencer Dickerson, executive director of the U.S. Contract Tower Association, said in a statement issued Friday.