TxDOT intends to fund Victoria's air traffic control tower


March 28, 2013 at 7:01 p.m.
Updated March 28, 2013 at 10:29 p.m.

There's good news for the Victoria Regional Airport control tower.

The Texas Department of Transportation on Thursday announced intentions to fund air traffic control services at 13 municipal airports, including Victoria's.

Federal funding for the Victoria tower is slated to end April 21.

The state's decision is pending approval by the Texas Transportation Commission, according to a news release. The commission is expected to vote on the funding at an emergency session next week.

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi, partway through Thursday's Victoria Regional Airport Commission meeting, received a phone call from Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, about the possibility of state funding. After the announcement that the state plans to follow through, the judge said he remained cautiously optimistic.

"We understand that what they're looking at right now would be a temporary solution, so it may not solve our problem permanently," Pozzi said. "We're very hopeful."

Keeping the tower operating costs about $500,000 annually.

Military traffic, corporate service and economic development are among the reasons the tower is vital to Victoria, Pozzi said, but general safety is No. 1.

Airport Manager Jason Milewski agreed.

Taking out 150 towers nationwide would have a huge impact not only on the national airspace system, but on people's safety, he said. Airports can operate safely without towers, he said, but the issue is taking away so many at once.

The Federal Aviation Administration expects its cuts to save about $32 million, Milewski explained, but studies show that, if an accident were to happen, it costs about $9 million per life lost. Four deaths would eliminate any savings.

He said he was glad to see Texas taking a stand to protect its towers.

"It's great that they have the vision ... and that they understand the necessity of this, even though Washington doesn't," he said. "Kudos to our state leaders."

Commissioner Fred Underwood of the Texas Transportation Commission said in the news release that safety was the main reason behind the funding decision.

"I am proud of our leaders for taking this extraordinary measure to ensure that those relying on these municipal airports will be able to depart and arrive safely and efficiently," he said.

Meanwhile, in the same news release, TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson noted flying is integral when it comes to Texas commerce.

"Local communities are counting on these airports to remain open for continued economic success," he said.

Pozzi said the commission will work with the state and the federal governments to see funding continue, so local entities don't pick up the slack.

Ideally, he said, if the federal government maintains its position, he would like to see the state or TxDOT pay for the funding permanently.

"We certainly appreciate the state's help," he said.



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