Officials discuss future of airport tower

WILLIAMSTOWN – The Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Tuesday discussed an upcoming request to area communities for funding of the air traffic control tower.

“We are moving along the path Sen. (Joe) Manchin, D-W.Va., recommended in keeping the tower open,” said airport manager Terry Moore. “If the tower is allowed to close in June, we lose it forever and we don’t want that.”

Moore and members of the Wood County Airport Authority, the managing arm of the airport, attended a Parkersburg City Council Finance Committee meeting as a precursor to a request for funds from the full city council. Moore said he plans to meet with city councils in Vienna, Williamstown and Belpre and possibly Marietta in search of donations.

It is unknown how much money airport officials will seek as Moore does not know how much it will cost to operate the tower for three-and-a-half months, from the time the Federal Aviation Administration ceases funding in June to October, the start of a new federal fiscal when funds may be restored. The cuts are part of the sequestration cuts to control spending and reduce the federal debt.

Moore said he is expecting the cost to keep the tower staffed and running from June 15 through September to be between $60,000 and $95,000.

“I have talked to other airports who are making the same plans we are and have spoken with tower contract companies and have received quotes between those numbers,” Moore said. “So I could be asking for anywhere between $10,000 and $15,000 from Parkersburg and other cities.”

To get an idea of how much the airport will need, a legal notice is appearing in The Parkersburg News and Sentinel asking for bids from air traffic control contracting companies.

“The is a one time, stop-gap effort to keep our tower going until the next fiscal year,” Moore said.

Several weeks ago the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission announced it would offer a 50 percent match up to $100,000 or unless the FAA reinstates funding to three West Virginia towers in Wood County, Wheeling and Greenbrier County.

“That match will greatly help, but if we don’t have half of the funds, it does no good,” Moore said.

Along with the local governments, Moore said he expects to receive funds from individuals who are regular users of the facility and the Mid-Ohio Valley Aviation Association pilot’s organization.

“It’s a travesty but I think we need to give it the old college try to keep the tower open because if we don’t there will be 100 percent total closure,” Moore said.

Moore said the airport can still function as it does without the tower, but it is more safe with one.

“Without a tower, what will happen here is a jet will be coming in on the approach and not be listening to a radio when a general aviation pilot announces their take off and there will be a head-on, even though it is a beautiful day,” said Jim Bennon, local pilot and founding member of the aviation association.

“We can operate without the tower, but is very difficult to describe the find line between having and not having a tower,” said pilot and board member John Pfalzgraf.

Last month the FAA extended the funding of 149 towers, moving the closure date from May until June 15. This temporary stay gives the airports another month to figure out how to fund their towers until October when there is a chance both the House and Senate will pass a budget with funding for the towers. These towers are listed for closure because of the FAA’s required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration, unless airports continued operations as a nonfederal contract tower.