By Ed Runyan
The air-traffic control tower at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport is not on the list of 149 towers across the country to be closed.
Dan Dickten, airport director of aviation, says it’s the decision he expected, saying the fact that the Vienna Township airport was on an initial list “didn’t make any sense at all.”
The main reason it didn’t make sense is that the local tower serves not only commercial aircraft such as leisure flights by Allegiant Air but also military flights by the 910th Airlift Wing at the Air Force Reserve Station, Dickten said.
Vienna was the only tower in Ohio with that type of joint use on the initial closure list, he added.
Friday’s list contained three in Ohio — Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio State University in Columbus and Bolton Field in Columbus. They will close over a four-week period beginning April 7. The closures were made to reduce the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget by $627 million this fiscal year, brought on by the federal sequester.
Besides the Vienna tower, the FAA also spared the tower in Mansfield.
All of the towers being closed are what officials call contract towers, meaning towers staffed by controllers working for private companies that have a contract with the FAA to provide air-traffic control.
The Vienna tower is not a contract tower; it is staffed by FAA employees.
Dickten said it’s likely that the FAA selected contract towers because they contain nonunion workers who would be easier to eliminate. In all, there are 251 contract towers in the U.S. They originated in the 1980s during airline deregulation, Dickten said.
Dickten said he received a questionnaire from the FAA asking about the amount of air traffic in Vienna from midnight to 6 a.m., which makes him believe the FAA is thinking of ending the midnight shift here.
If that happened, Dickten said he doesn’t think it would hurt the airport because the airport receives only about 3.5 aircrafts per week from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. The tower would accommodate occasional flights from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. with overtime, he added.
Losing the tower completely would have hurt because having local controllers with “eyes on” the aircraft provides extra safety compared with having controllers who monitor the aircraft only on screens, Dickten said.
Dickten thanked officials for writing letters in support of the local tower, including members of Congress such as Reps. Tim Ryan and Bill Johnson, U.S. Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, state officials such as Sen. Capri Cafaro and Rep. Sean O’Brien, members of the Western Reserve Port Authority and commissioners from Trumbull and Mahoning counties.