Commissioners seek solutions to air traffic control cuts

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

March 11, 2013 at 7:02 p.m.
Updated March 11, 2013 at 10:12 p.m.

Flights out of Victoria Regional Airport could be thrown into a tailspin once the air traffic control tower loses federal funding April 7.

In an attempt to keep that tower operational, Victoria County Commissioners unanimously voted Monday to accept bids for management of the control tower.

Victoria's tower is one of 19 statewide and 238 nationally to lose federal funding as a result of the $85 billion in automatic budget cuts that took effect March 1.

"The county is not in a position, in my opinion, to self-fund that tower for a long period of time," County Judge Don Pozzi said.

Airport Manager Jason Milewski said the federal money that funds Victoria's tower comes from aviation taxes - a fuel tax and over flight tax.

"Yes, it does come out of Washington, but it's important for people to know that it's its own self-funded system," Milewski said. "That's why we're fighting to keep it open. It's not just a federal subsidy."

He estimated that it costs about $500,000 annually to operate the tower - which includes four controllers and a manager.

However, Pozzi said the amount could vary because "the FAA has been very secretive about that."

Pozzi said the county is looking at all options for funding including finding federal dollars, Texas Department of Transportation funds, public-private partnerships, corporate entities or Victoria County itself.

"As far as any county involvement, I am only looking at that as a temporary solution as we continue to look at other funding opportunities," Pozzi said.

Milewski said the state does not have a mechanism to fund air traffic control towers.

Doug Church, communications director for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association based in Washington, D.C., said the group is urging Congress to stop the sequester.

The association represents Victoria's air traffic controllers, as well as 64 towers across the U.S.

Church said about 50 towers the group represents are on the FAA's closure list.

"We have quite a stake in this," he said. "We're urging Congress to act immediately to stop the sequester."

He said the contract towers provide a valuable service.

"If you close these towers, in effect, you're closing the off-ramps of the literal freeway in the sky," he said.

Church said every single community impacted by the closures has been involved.

He said airport directors, pilots and community leaders are all involved.

"It's a very concerted joint effort," Church said. "Our focus is on making sure Congress understands how important these towers are."



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