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Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport tower could close

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Catherine W. Idzerda
February 23, 2013

— For the federal government, it’s just another small airport.

For Rock County, it’s a crucial part of economic infrastructure that could take an operational hit—unless the elected officials can reach a budget compromise.

On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was making plans for the possible “sequestration”—the automatic budget cuts that would go into effect Friday, March 1, if no budget agreement is reached.

Those FAA plans include instituting furlough days for almost all employees and closing more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations each year.

The Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport in Janesville falls into that category.

“We had about 55,000 operations last year,” said Rock County Public Works Director Ben Coopman.

An operation consists of a take-off or a landing.

If the budget compromise can’t be reached and the FAA goes through with its plans, the airport tower would be closed through Sept. 30, when the federal government’s fiscal year ends. The tower at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport is open every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Outside those hours, pilots can radio the airport in Rockford, Ill., or use designated radio frequencies to turn up the runway lights, Coopman said. Airport Director Ron Burdick said lack of a tower would make an impact, especially because the airport has three runways.

“That’s six different approaches,” Burdick said. “We also have a diversity of traffic—everything from students fliers to cargo planes to DC-9s.”

Air Force One brought then-President George W. Bush to the area.

The tower matters to economic development, too, Burdick said. “It’s a marketing tool that helps bring business to the airport,” Burdick said. “It makes the airport more useable.” Airports without towers use different rules that require pilots to take off and land “with greater separation, thus increasing the time between arrivals and departures,” according to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

That means a slowdown in traffic.

In addition, the airport is maintained to commercial airport standards, and that makes it a selling point, Burdick has said.

The airport gets less use since General Motors closed its Janesville facility.

But several businesses are located at the airport, and more than 100 aircraft are based at the airport.

SC Aviation, a division of The Swiss Colony in Monroe, runs a charter service at the airport.

ABC Supply, Prent Corp. and Regal-Beloit have corporate jets in private facilities at the airport.

The airport helps attract new businesses, such as SHINE Medical Technologies.

SHINE officials said the company would use the airport to transport decay-sensitive medical isotopes several times a week.

Last summer, the county started on what could be a fourphase plan to improve the airport’s general aviation terminal. The cost is estimated at $3 million and it will be paid for with state and local money.

The airport is considered such an economic asset that Rock County 5.0, a public private economic development group, created a marketing video about it.

“Not having the tower would be a detriment to the operations at the airport,” said Nick Osborne, assistant to the Rock County Administrator.



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