The Federal Aviation Administration has decided to keep open 149 small airport control towers, including six in Connecticut, but tower operators and lawmakers are concerned about what will happen at the end of the fiscal year.
A group of small airport operators and Connecticut lawmakers gathered Monday at the Legislative Office Building to discuss the future of the control towers if Congress fails to deal with its budget issues.
“These air control towers are not a luxury,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday. “They are vital to air traffic safety.”
He said the federal government cannot “lurch from crisis to crisis” and he will continue to fight for funding beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Last week, Congress allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to sweep $253 million from unspent funds to keep the controllers on the job.
The six airports that would have been impacted by the cuts in Connecticut include Hartford’s Brainard Airport, New Haven’s Tweed Airport, and the airports in Danbury, Bridgeport, Groton-New London, Waterbury.
“It’s a good step forward, but that means we have until the end of this fiscal year,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said.
She said that at the moment Congress is at the mercy of a loss of jobs from sequestration with no clear path for the future.
“It’s not just a budget process,” DeLauro said. “There are real lives at the end of that process,” no matter what spending cuts you’re talking about.
“There is a story behind each one of these cuts,” she added. “That’s why we have to come to a comprehensive solution.”
Chet Moore of the Groton-New London Airport explained that air traffic controllers are important to safety at these airports because of the diverse sizes of aircraft landing there. He said even though traffic to these smaller airports has declined over the last decade, controllers are important to keep separation of space during departures and arrivals.
“It’s a timing issue,” Moore said. “We know the air speed of certain aircraft . . . When you lose that you have the potential for some unsafe issues.”
He said these days there are much faster corporate jets and it’s a different air space than it was in 1981. He said that without controllers to guide these planes in, aviation could become hazardous.