Local port traffic tower safe for now

VIENNA – The air traffic control tower at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport has dodged the budget-cutting bullet and will remain open, according to information released Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Local director of aviation Dan Dickten called the information “a big sigh of relief” because losing the tower would have crippled the airport’s ongoing attempts to lure regular daily flights back to the facility.

“It would have killed us,” Dickten said, noting that talks with national airlines are getting closer to fruition.

Dickten had questioned why the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport was on the initial closure list, describing it as Ohio’s only commercial service, joint-use military FAA-operated airport on the list.

“It didn’t make any sense,” Dickten said. “There is too much going on there, too much at stake.”

The final list released Friday afternoon by the FAA is calling for closure of 149 air traffic control facilities at small airports around the country starting early next month. The closures will not force the shutdown of any of those airports, but pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers. All pilots are trained to fly using those procedures.

The FAA is being forced to trim $637 million for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The cuts come as a part of automatic federal budget cuts known as “sequestration” which went into effect March 1.

The FAA said it had no choice but to subject most of its 47,000 employees, including tower controllers, to periodic furloughs and to close air traffic facilities at small airports with lighter traffic.

Air traffic controllers at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport still face furloughs of one day per week for 11 weeks beginning April 21. The Vienna tower has 16 controllers, two supervisors and a support person.

In addition, Dickten said the tower still could face losing its midnight shift, but that is a problem he said the airport can handle. He said the airport has been asked to provide additional information to the FAA about the overnight use of the tower.

Towers at three Ohio airports remain on the closure list. They are: Ohio State University Airport, Columbus-Bolton Field Airport and Cuyahoga County Airport.