Friday, September 27, 2013

Tweed New Haven Regional Airport (KHVN) says it will continue operating if tower funds cut

NEW HAVEN >> Tweed New Haven Regional Airport officials believe the airport and its contract-operated control tower will continue to operate in the event that Congress fails to authorize continued spending beyond the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.

But in the absence of specific assurances from the Federal Aviation Administration, they can’t say for sure.

As things stood Friday, “the only that we would be concerned about would be our (Airport Improvement Program) funds, which pay for capital improvements,” said Tweed Airport Manager Lori Hoffman-Soares.

But “we have heard nothing from anybody,” Hoffman-Soares said. “We have had no communication from the FAA as to any procedure.”

The FAA, in a prepared statement e-mailed to the New Haven Register, said only that “Congress has not yet approved a budget for FY 2014 so we do not have an update regarding future funding allocations. The Administration continues to urge Congress to act to replace the damaging cuts imposed by the sequester with a balanced approach that reduces the deficit while protecting critical priorities,” it said.

An FAA spokesman said the statement applies to all airports.

“My understanding is that the air traffic control piece is kept out of the equation because no one wants to go down that road again,” said Tweed Authority Executive Director Tim Larson.

“I don’t think it’s good for anybody, including the airport, if the FAA shuts down...” Larson said. But “I think that we’re going to be OK.”

In the event of any future cuts, Tweed is in the same category as five other smaller state airports that also have towers operated by private companies on contract to the FAA, which already went through considerable uncertainty earlier in the year when funding was threatened by the budget sequester.

The others are Bridgeport’s Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, Hartford Brainard Airport, Groton-New London Airport, Waterbury-Oxford Airport and Danbury Municipal Airport.

Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks is in a different category, with controllers who work directly for the FAA.

Where Tweed may be in better shape than some airports in its class is that the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority in the spring approved a $275,000 line item to hire its own controllers in the event that FAA funding is cut.

“We had put that in there” because “when we did our budget in April, that was back when we didn’t even know if they were continuing the program,” said Hoffman-Soares.

Tweed and many of the 250 other airports with contract towers received an e-mail Friday from the president of the American Association of Airport Executives, which suggested that towers would be likely to continue to operate, at least initially.

“Although we have received no official word from our repeated inquiries to FAA, if the history of past government shutdowns are any indication, we expect that contract controllers, just like FAA controllers, will remain on the job if the government shuts down on October 1, at least for the short term,” wrote AAAE President Spencer Dickerson.

“If the government shutdown lasts for more than 30 days, the continued operation of contract towers will be reevaluated,” Dickerson wrote. 

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