The control tower at Athens-Ben Epps Airport will shut down if the government shutdown isn’t resolved by the end of the month, Airport Director Tim Beggerly said.
The air traffic controllers work on a contract basis for the airport. With the ongoing shutdown, which includes the Federal Aviation Administration, there’s no one to renew the contracts when they expire at midnight Oct. 31. If it came to that, the airport would operate with new procedures, he said.
“We would continue to operate just without the added safety of the having the tower,” Beggerly said.
The biggest impact of a tower closure would be felt on home game days of the Georgia Bulldogs, Beggerly said. They can see air traffic jump as much as 80 percent on weekends where the Bulldogs play between the hedges. Luckily, the biggest home games of the season are behind Georgia, Beggerly said. Nonetheless, he’d still try to find air traffic controllers to work those weekends in November and help with the increased activity. “But I don’t know how that would go because several offices of the FAA are furloughed,” he said.
Athens-Ben Epps’ control tower would be one of about 250 nationwide to go unmanned at the end of the month if the shutdown continues, Beggerly said. Many FAA air traffic controllers are working without pay already, he said.
Aside from the airport itself, Beggerly said the Bojangles restaurant proposed, and locally approved, to be built near the airport is on hold now as well. The FAA needs to give final approval for new construction near airports but no one is around to OK it.
“We’ve approved it, (the developer) agreed to what we said in our recommendations and it was moving ahead until this happened,” Beggerly said. “There’s not much we can do but hope and wait for (Congress) to reach a resolution.”