Local airport tower on possible closure list

WILLIAMSTOWN The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport’s air-traffic control tower is on a list of potential closures due to automatic spending cuts scheduled next month.

On Friday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced 100 smaller air-traffic control towers could be closed from among a list of 200 such towers under consideration of being shut down. The local tower is part of this list.

“It’s a pretty long list,” said MOV airport manager Terry Moore. “There is a 50/50 chance that our tower will be closed, which is not good.”

Moore said the tower’s employees are provided by the Federal Aviation Administration through a contract with a company in Missouri to provide qualified employees to the tower.

“If our tower is one of the 100 closed, it would not shut the airport down or affect operations, but the impact would be safety,” he said. “We would still run and have commercial, private and general aviation flights, just in an uncontrolled field.”

Tower operations allow pilots to know where other aircraft are in the air and on the ground and where it is safe to go. Losing that safety would be the main concern, Moore said.

“I don’t want to lose our tower because it is the only air-traffic control tower locally and it gives us a quality of credibility above other general aviation airports in the area,” he said. “Pilots from Athens and other areas around us come here to train.

“It would be a great loss not only to the airport, but to the region and community to lose the tower,” Moore said.

The local tower employs five highly trained and qualified air-traffic controllers.

In West Virginia, along with the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport’s tower, the air-traffic control towers at airports in Bridgeport, Wheeling, Huntington and Lewisburg are being considered for closure.

Other airports listed include those in Napa, Calif., Walla Walla, Wash., and Hilton Head, S.C.

“The list is extensive and includes airports around the country,” Moore said. “It would be bad if our tower was closed, but there are other potential cuts that would be far more devastating.”

Those possible cuts include the loss of Essential Air Service, in which the local airport receives federal funding for the commercial air service now provided through Silver Airways to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, as well as cuts in military procedures. Moore said 20 percent of the airport’s business comes from military aircraft.

“My fingers are crossed that our tower is kept open, but I cannot point fingers and say that another airport’s tower should be closed instead,” he said.

LaHood warned the closure of the towers would result in canceled and delayed flights across the country. There are also furloughs of FAA employees with one day every two weeks through the end of September expected.

The cuts are expected as part of the $85 billion in spending cuts scheduled to affect every federal agency March 1. The full effect of flight delays and cancellations from the tower closures would be felt by April 1.