FAA to keep funding privately run air traffic towers
The announcement this week softened concerns by airport industry lobbyists and local air traffic control officials that that federal spending cuts could lead to shutdowns of air traffic towers at smaller local airports.
Officials at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville learned Tuesday that the FAA will receive and plans to apply full federal funding to its contract towers program. The program pays for private contractors to operate control towers at some airports, including the airport in Janesville.
Rumors were that the federal Office of Management and Budget planned to cut funding for the program, said Earl Arrowood, air traffic manager at Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Such cuts could mean towers at smaller airports would no longer be manned by controllers, he said.
Arrowood is employed by Midwest Air Traffic Control Service, a company that provides air traffic control services at the airport.
Small airports such as Janesville's would be particularly vulnerable to cuts to the contract tower program because the airport doesn't handle military or scheduled airline passenger flights, Arrowood said.
He said his company and other airport industry lobbyists have pressured federal lawmakers in recent weeks to continue funding for contract towers.
In a Feb. 22 letter to the Rock County Public Works Committee, Arrowood wrote that Janesville and other small airports could face an ongoing threat for funding for air traffic tower operations.
The airport in Janesville handled more than 52,000 operations last year. The airport tower is staffed with controllers 15 hours each day, according to federal aviation charts.
During hours when no controllers are on duty, the Janesville airport becomes an "uncontrolled airport." At those times, aircraft flying in and out of the airport are required to use a shared radio system that allows pilots to communicate with each other.