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REGIONAL AIRPORT Hours for tower to be cut?



Published: Fri, February 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A plane in distress needs a controller on the ground, the airport director says.

STAFF/WIRE REPORT

WASHINGTON -- Control towers at some airports, including Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport and two others in Ohio, could go dark between midnight and 5 a.m. under a cost-cutting plan the government is considering.

The air traffic controllers union, as well as the airport director in Vienna Township, say the move would compromise safety. Lawmakers worry it could lead to service reductions in their states.

Ohio airports affected by the proposed cuts are Youngstown, Akron-Canton Regional Airport and Toledo Express Airport. In Pennsylvania, Harrisburg International Airport is on the list.

FAA spokesman Greg Martin said the agency is looking to adjust staffing to meet changes in demand. The FAA has not made a final decision and is reviewing each airport, he said.

There are 48 airports that handle few commercial and cargo flights in those five early morning hours.

"As an operator, we're not in favor of this type of activity," Steve Bowser, interim director of aviation at Youngstown-Warren, said of the proposal. "We're going to make an effort to try and avoid it."

Bowser noted that the airport is actively marketing to attract business, including cargo, and many of those operators work after midnight. The ability to accept cargo operations is a plus for the local airport, he said.

Bowser also cited aeronautical safety issues. "If there is an aircraft safety issue out there, you need to talk to a controller," he said.

Airport would be open

Cutting tower hours at night would not mean the airport is closed down. Bowser said pilots can have remote access to turn on the runway lights.

He noted a similar cutback in hours was tried in the mid-1980s for about a year, and then discontinued.

Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said closing the towers for any period of time "is just not safe."

Federal air traffic controllers staff 315 airports, but not all do it round-the-clock. For example, control towers at Mansfield Regional Airport in Ohio and at Palm Springs International Airport in California operate for only 17 hours, Martin said.

In addition, there are 193 airports with scheduled commercial service that do not even have control towers, Martin said.

When a tower is empty, pilots are always in voice contact with a controller, either at the Terminal Radar Approach Control or at a center, Martin said.

Approach controls handle aircraft approaching and departing airports within about a 50-mile radius; the 21 centers handle much bigger segments of airspace.

Church said it is important that pilots have controllers who can see runway conditions.

The Bush administration has proposed a lean budget in 2006 for the FAA. Yet next year, the FAA plans to hire and train about 1,200 air traffic controllers to replace those who are leaving.




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