Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Air traffic controllers keep tower working

By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 19, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.
Updated March 18, 2013 at 10:19 p.m.

Victoria County officials have some tough decisions to make. Under the current federal sequester plan, if nothing changes, the Victoria Regional Airport's air traffic control tower loses federal funding April 7.

In response, the Victoria County Commissioners Court is searching for ways to fund the tower. At a previous meeting March 11, commissioners estimated the cost of keeping the tower running without the federal subsidy would be about $500,000. However, the number may change because the Federal Aviation Administration has been "secretive" about that information, according to County Judge Don Pozzi.

We are disappointed to see this situation unfolding. It is true that government spending needs to be reduced, but the selection of this program to be on the chopping block is confusing, to say the least.

According to Airport Manager Jason Milewski, the funds for this federal grant are not the same as other grants, which some consider to be handouts from the government. This is a self-funded grant drawn from the aviation trust fund, which collects fees from those who use air service, not from taxpayers in general. The program has been audited several times, and each audit showed the program has significant value in air service, Milewski said. Now, the FAA is cutting the program without disclosing why.

A loss of the air traffic control staff will not totally halt traffic to the airport. The tower was added in 2008, but before then, Victoria flights were coordinated through Houston. That may have been sufficient in the past, but Victoria's air traffic has doubled since then, Milewski said, which means a return to that system would mean a necessary cut in the traffic the Victoria airport handles.

"It's like a city putting in a traffic light to help handle increasing traffic, then taking it away," Milewski said. "You can't expect that intersection to be able to safely handle a higher volume of traffic without that traffic light acting as a safety measure."

These cuts mean the traffic that has contributed to Victoria's economy will need to slow, resulting in a possible slowdown in Victoria County's economic growth. But county officials have already begun discussing options to keep the tower open.

We applaud the commissioners court for their determination to keep Victoria's air control tower open. We realize this will not be an easy process, but we encourage the county, private investors and others to examine any and all options. Even if the tower can only be open part time, it is better than a total shutdown and drastically reduced air traffic. If we work together, we can find a solution that will benefit everyone. The sequester may come, but that does not mean we should simply give up.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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