Airport: Trade overnight shift for keeping tower open

VIENNA – Terminating the overnight air traffic control shift at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport may be the carrot to dangle in front of the Federal Aviation Administration to avoid it fully closing the tower in across-the-board federal spending cuts.

Airport director of aviation Dan Dickten said eliminating the midnight to 6 a.m. shift is a more friendly option than closing the tower, and an alternative he’s behind if it will help keep the tower open.

”We are in favor of doing without that shift if it will assist us in keeping the tower open,” Dickten said at Wednesday’s meeting of the Western Reserve Port Authority, the board that operates the airport.

Dickten said doing away with the shift would not ”interfere with any airline operations” or military training. If there is an early or late flight, the FAA would bring in controllers or carry them over from the earlier shift, he said.

The airport averages about three airplanes a week on the overnight shift.

The planned FAA cuts, part of automatic budget cuts called sequestration, are expected to be announced by the agency Friday. Airport officials had until March 13 to provide the FAA justification why eliminating the towers would negatively affect the national interest.

On the proposed list of more than 200 tower closures are five in Ohio: Youngstown, Mansfield-Lahm Regional Airport, the Ohio State University Airport, Columbus-Bolton Field Airport and the Cuyahoga County Airport.

The list of possible towers includes both FAA and federal contract tower facilities. Youngstown is an FAA-operated tower, and, Dickten said, is the only commercial service / joint-use military airport in Ohio on the list.

Dickten said the airport can operate without a tower, but having it adds an ”extra layer” of safety.

”Hopefully, we will be off the list,” Dickten said.

Just in case, Dickten said talks have been had about contracting for tower operators and work is being done to put together a cost. As far as Allegiant Air, which provides leisure flights from Youngstown, Dickten said, the airline prefers flying into airports with towers, but does fly to locations without them.

Already, air traffic controllers at the tower have received furlough notices of one day per pay period on alternate days. The furloughs will take effect with the pay period that begins April 21. Every controller will be furloughed one day each pay period for 11 pay periods in all through the end of September.

The tower in Vienna has 16 controllers, two supervisors and a support person.