Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Victoria Regional (KVCT), Texas: Airport management urges community to speak out against funding cuts

Originally published February 26, 2013 at 5 p.m., updated February 26, 2013 at 8:45 p.m.

Revenue drops, traffic decreases, safety issues and more potential federal spending cuts could mean trouble for the Victoria Regional Airport, management said. But community input might help.

Airport Manager Jason Milewski talked Tuesday at the Victoria Economic Development Corp.'s Victoria Partnership meeting, discussing a possible $600 million Federal Aviation Administration spending cut that could go into effect Friday.

If passed, the cuts could take away funding for air traffic control centers at 25 Texas airports, including Victoria's.

Milewski said he's experienced a flood of communication between affected airports in the days since Friday's announcement but hoped to see communication go a step further. He encouraged concerned residents to contact their federal elected officials.

Victoria County Judge Don Pozzi agreed.

"They need to know," he said to the group. "They already know. But they need to hear it from you."

Although a closure would not affect the airport's current Essential Air Service program with Sun Air International, Milewski said it could make it more difficult to obtain new service in the future.

Other issues also join the mix.

The move would likely decrease the airport's traffic and revenue by more than 60 percent, he said, while large companies that must fly often, such as Caterpillar, would also suffer.

Because the military uses the airport for practice, he added, it would have to adjust its schedule and find other locations, increasing the Department of Defense's budget.

Closing the tower also raises safety concerns, Milewski said, noting benefit/cost studies show it costs less to man a tower than to handle a plane crash.

He encouraged the Federal Aviation Administration to re-evaluate budget cuts.

"This is really a White House versus Congress issue," he said. "A political game of chicken."

Bob Haueter, district director for Rep. Blake Farenthold's office, said it was the administration trying to put pressure on largely Republican areas but said the strategy didn't make sense. A person working to save money at home, for instance, wouldn't start by cutting off food for the kids and gas for the car.

"There's a sensible way to do it and a wrong way," he said. "This is the wrong way."

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