Friday, February 22, 2013

Athens/Ben Epps (KAHN), Athens, Georgia: Closing of airport tower would raise safety, economic concerns

The air traffic control tower at Athens-Ben Epps Airport is on a list of control towers at smaller airports throughout the country that could close if federal budget cuts set to go into effect March 1 aren’t modified by Congress and the White House as the deadline looms.

If the Athens-Ben Epps tower is closed, airport operations, including the commercial passenger service provided by SeaPort Airlines to Nashville, Tenn., won’t be adversely affected, at least in a technical sense, according to Airport Director Tim Beggerly.

There would, however, be some safety concerns, Beggerly noted. Athens-Ben Epps Airport is at least somewhat unique among airports in terms of the traffic it handles, he said. At any given time, according to Beggerly, it’s possible that a chartered 100-passenger jet and a two-seat propeller-driven training aircraft will be taking off or landing, and air traffic controllers provide the needed expertise for ensuring adequate separation and other factors critical to the safety of both aircraft and their passengers.

There would also be some economic concerns if the tower is closed, Beggerly said, noting that the approximately half-dozen air-traffic controllers who work there, not to mention the people who maintain the tower’s equipment and even the people who clean the facility, would lose their jobs.

Currently, the Athens airport’s tower is staffed for just half the day, Beggerly said. From 8 p.m. until 8 a.m. daily, which includes times that SeaPort Airlines is operating flights into and out of the airport, the facility is “uncontrolled.”

During those hours, Beggerly explained, commercial and private pilots land and take off following a set of standard procedures, including communicating their intentions over a common radio frequency.

Should the tower close, Beggerly said he didn’t expect that circumstance to have an adverse effect on SeaPort Airlines’ presence in Athens. SeaPort provides air service to Nashville — a connecting point for larger airlines — under the terms of a federally subsidized Essential Air Service contract. Similar EAS contracts ensure commercial air service in a number of communities across the United States.

According to media reports, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Friday that the across-the-board budget cuts contemplated in the so-called federal “sequester” will mean trimming $600 million from the Federal Aviation Administration’s budget this year. In anticipation of those cuts, the FAA has developed a list of 200 airport control towers from which the agency could choose as many as 100 for closure.

In addition to the Athens-Ben Epps tower, six other Georgia airport towers — in Albany, Columbus, Macon and at three small metropolitan Atlanta airports — are on the FAA list.

Athens-Ben Epps Airport is one of nine commercial airports in the state. Outside of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, Athens-Ben Epps Airport is the second busiest among the remaining seven commercial airports in the state, Beggerly said.

Story and Reaction/Comments:

No comments:

Post a Comment