Reprieve for Ithaca airport control tower as FAA delays cuts to June

April 5, 2013

The Federal Aviation Administration has delayed its plans to cut staff funding for air traffic controllers in the wake of Federal spending cuts known collectively as a "sequester." The staff cuts, now delayed at least until mid-June, would have effectively shuttered control towers at 149 small and regional airports beginning this Sunday.

Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. 14850 Photo.Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport. 14850 Photo.Officials at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, which was on the list of airports due to lose funding, had stressed that the airport was not going to close and that operations would not be impacted significantly. "There are over 5,000 airports in the United States and only 450 have control towers, proposed to be reduced by 149 due to sequestration," airport officials said last month.

Early-morning and late-evening flights into and out of Ithaca were already handled without a staffed control tower. "Without a tower staff, arriving and departing planes have to self-queue." When Ithaca's control tower is closed, area traffic is already handled by staff at the Elmira Corning Regional Airport control tower. "We have years of experience with this system and can say, unequivocally, that safety will not be an issue," said airport manager Robert Nicholas.

"Non-tower operations are pretty easy as long as there isn't much traffic," says David Kornreich, a part-time flight instructor at East Hill Flying Club and a physics professor at Ithaca College. "It's the difference between a stop sign and a stop light, pretty much." Kornreich says flight training will face a bigger impact than commercial flights. "The students will have less experience talking to Air Traffic Control."

"This has been a complex process and we need to get this right," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today as the FAA announced it was delaying the cuts. "We will use this additional time to make sure communities and pilots understand the changes at their local airports." The FAA is being forced to cut its budget by 637 million dollars.

Travelers have also been concerned that Federal spending cuts could result in delays in the airport terminal, as well, as fewer TSA screeners at security checkpoints could mean longer lines.

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