Advocate Editorial Board opinion: State picks up pieces from federal failure

By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 30, 2013 at 4:01 p.m.
Updated March 29, 2013 at 10:30 p.m.

The sequester has caused an uproar over the past few weeks in Washington, D.C., and across the nation. Some say it will cause another recession while others insist its effects will be negligible. Whatever the effect is nationally, we know one part of the sequester cuts will touch the Crossroads.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced a plan to make $32 million in cuts by taking away funding to 149 federal contract air traffic control towers across the U.S. The Victoria Regional Airport tower is one of the 13 towers in Texas included in these cuts and is scheduled to lose funding on April 21. Thankfully, the Texas Department of Transportation has stepped up and plans to fund air traffic control service for the towers. The plan needs to be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, which will vote on the proposal at an emergency meeting this week, but we are grateful to the state for its concern and intention to preserve the safety of regional airports in Texas.

According to Victoria Regional Airport Manager Jason Milewski, the FAA still refuses to offer any explanation for why this particular program is being cut. The funds for these contract towers come out of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is funded by fees paid by people who use the system, much like the city of Victoria's Hotel Occupancy Tax fund is filled by those who use hotels and motels in town, not from the general taxpayer. Because this system is entirely self-funded and does not rely on taxpayers, the decision to cut funding is confusing to say the least. In addition, the cost of running one of these contract towers is about a quarter of the $2 million cost of a federal-run tower, which means the FAA could have made the same amount of savings by switching 22 federal towers to the contract tower system rather than cutting funds to 149 towers across the nation.

What's more, the FAA is choosing to skip many of the required studies and procedures necessary to safely close control towers, which leaves a troubling opening for accidents in the future. When the federal government looks at the possibility of opening a control tower, a study is done that weighs the cost of running a tower versus the cost of an accident, which includes an estimate of $9 million per human life lost, Milewski said. This means if four people die in an accident as a result of these cuts, any savings the FAA would have made would be eradicated.

All of this information suggests the FAA is making these particular cuts not as a genuine effort to reduce spending but as an effort to cause an outcry and pressure Washington into exempting it from making any cuts. If that is the case, we are disappointed and horrified at the willingness to play with the safety of those using the aviation system. The FAA is not exempt from the need to make efficient cuts and should be ashamed for using the safety and economic prosperity of smaller communities as a bargaining chip.

We applaud TxDOT and the state for their efforts to keep funding available to our air traffic control tower, as well as the other 12 in jeopardy in Texas. We realize this may only be a temporary measure, but the state's quick response to this need is comforting to see. We are grateful for their support and encourage the officials of Victoria County to use this opportunity to plan ahead so our tower can continue to function for years to come.

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



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