The control tower at Chippewa Valley Regional Airport is among those at more than 250 small airports across the U.S. that will receive funding to continue operations through September as part of the federal budget adopted last week.
Many of those control towers were scheduled for closure last year amid federal budget cuts. The towers are operated by private contractors, and the Federal Aviation Administration sought to end those contracts. The agency later delayed the closings.
The new federal budget contains $140 million for air traffic control contracts to keep the towers staffed through Sept. 30.
Charity Speich, Chippewa Valley Regional Airport manager, said she is grateful funding for the tower was included in the budget. Audits show towers operated by contractors are cheaper to staff than those overseen by the FAA, she said.
“It was unfortunate the FAA was looking to make budget cuts on the back of a program that was far more efficient to operate,” Speich said.
Funding for the tower in Eau Claire and at other airports could be an issue in the future, but Speich said she is optimistic money to staff those towers will be continued in the 2015 budget.
“We’re hopeful the FAA is not going to try to cut back this funding again,” she said.
If the FAA were to cut air traffic control contracts, smaller airports would be forced to shift to a system that requires all pilots to communicate with each other to coordinate takeoffs, landings and other maneuvers.