Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Trial set in seizure of marijuana at Fitchburg Municipal Airport (KFIT), Massachusetts

This state police photo shows the airplane which was operated by Hoang Nguyen.

This state police pictures allegedly shows the three bags carrying 74 pounds of marijuana which were found inside the airplane.

WORCESTER — A June 24 trial has been scheduled in Worcester Superior Court for a California pilot charged with trafficking in 74 pounds of marijuana authorities said they seized from a plane he landed at the airport in Fitchburg in 2011. 

Judge James R. Lemire set the trial date Wednesday for Hoang H. Nguyen after announcing in open court that he was denying a motion to suppress evidence in the case filed by Mr. Nguyen's lawyer, Leonard J. Staples.

The judge said he had not completed his written decision on the defense motion, which sought to preclude prosecutors from using the marijuana and statements attributed to Mr. Nguyen as evidence against him at trial.

Judge Lemire set the trial date at the request of Assistant District Attorney Timothy M. Farrell and Mr. Staples, who said he may seek to appeal the judge's ruling on the suppression issue.

Mr. Nguyen, 33, of Garden Grove, Calif., was arrested Sept. 27, 2011, by state and federal agents after the rented single-engine plane he had flown from Santa Monica, Calif., touched down at the Fitchburg airport. Authorities said they obtained a search warrant and discovered duffel bags filled with marijuana on board the plane.

Mr. Nguyen has pleaded not guilty to a charge of trafficking in more than 50 pounds of marijuana and has been released from custody on $5,000 cash bail. His appearance in court Wednesday had been waived.

Mr. Staples alleged in his motion to suppress evidence that there was no legal basis for law enforcement officials to detain and question Mr. Nguyen upon his arrival at the airport and that a police dog “sniff” of the airplane suggesting that drugs were on board occurred while his client was being improperly detained.

The defense lawyer further argued that the affidavit submitted by investigators in support of their application for the search warrant lacked any details concerning the certification of the police dog and its handler and contained no information about the dog's track record of “successful hits versus false positives.”

If Mr. Nguyen's statements and information about the dog's “hit” on the plane were redacted from the affidavit, it would have lacked the probable cause required for the issuance of the search warrant, Mr. Staples contended.

Mr. Farrell argued in his written opposition to the motion that the initial interaction between Mr. Nguyen and federal agents and state police was appropriate under federal codes and that his detention was therefore legal.

The codes require pilots to produce various documents, including a pilot's certificate, a certificate of registration for the aircraft and a logbook upon request by a representative of the National Transportation Safety Board or Transportation Security Administration or any federal, state or local law enforcement officer, according to Mr. Farrell.

The prosecutor also maintained that the affidavit in support of the search warrant contained “ample probable cause” to justify the search.

Mr. Nguyen flew out of Santa Monica the day before his arrest and stopped at an airport in Grundy, Ill., according to court records.

An airport manager there contacted officials at the Homeland Security Air Marine Operations Center and reported that he had seen Mr. Nguyen pay cash for fuel and sleep in his plane with two large suitcases, the records state.

A Homeland Security interdiction plane followed the Cirrus SR22 aircraft Mr. Nguyen was piloting to Fitchburg, and the federal agency had been tracking it since it flew over Arizona the previous day, according to court documents.

When questioned by authorities in Fitchburg, Mr. Nguyen allegedly said the duffel bags on the plane were not his and that he did not know what was in them.

Mr. Nguyen told authorities the bags were to be delivered to someone in Fitchburg, but did not identify who had placed them in the aircraft or to whom they were to be delivered, Mr. Farrell said in his opposition brief.

Mr. Nguyen identified himself as a commercial airline pilot and said he had rented the aircraft he was flying for $200 an hour, according to the prosecutor.

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Three former Delta workers caught trying to fly drugs into Hartsfield - Jackson Atlanta International Airport (KATL), Georgia

ATLANTA -- A United States District Judge sentenced three former Delta Air Lines employees on Wednesday for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin.

According to Bob Page, spokesman for U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates, 36-year-old Luis Marroquin of Atlanta, 42-year-old Carlos Springer of Hampton, and 28-year-old Kelvin Rondon of Miami, Fla. worked together to get illegal narcotics into the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from Mexico City.

Delta Air Lines flight 364 arrived in Atlanta in January 13, 2012 from Mexico City, when a Delta agent found an unclaimed piece of luggage at baggage claim. The bag was at a carousel with a tag for that flight attached to it.

The bag was inspected by Customs and Border Protection agents. Inside, they found several packages of illegal drugs.

Homeland Security interviewed Springer later that day. He was the performance leader for the shift of ramp workers who unloaded the baggage from that flight.

Investigators searched Springer's cell phone, and found coded, incriminating text messages sent between Springer and Marroquin around the time that flight 364 landed. Video captured the third suspect, Rondon during the landing and unloading of the flight, but he was off-duty at the time and had no authorization to work that flight.

During further investigation, Marroquin was found to have recruited Rondon into the drug scheme. Rondon was paid to make sure the unclaimed bag of drugs was on flight 364.

According to investigators, Marroquin's cell phone had a photo of the bag the day before flight 364 arrived that was shown to Rondon.

Rondon told investigators when he arrived on the tarmac, he helped unload the cargo and could not find the bag when he tried.

"The security of critical infrastructure like Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is a key national security concern," Brock Nicholson, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta said. "HSI special agents and our partners like U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Delta security team are committed to identifying those who seek to exploit the system and ensuring they are held accountable for their actions."

Marroquin was found on May 1, 2012 after the return of the indictment. He fled from Atlanta and was located at a Coral Springs, Fla. home.

"We serve the citizens of our district by promoting healthy and safe communities and we will prosecute anyone who uses our airports to import deadly drugs," United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said. "People have a reasonable expectation when boarding an airplane that airline personnel will be professionals who value their safety," she said, "and will not expose them to illegal activity."

Marroquin was sentenced to 15 years, 8 months in prison to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.

Springer was sentenced to 11 years, 3 months in prison to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.

Rondon was sentenced to 5 years, 3 months in prison to be followed by 5 years of supervised release.

Marroquin, Springer, and Rondon were convicted of the above charges upon their pleas of guilty last year.


Air travel VIP style: it's a breeze

For most people, flying is far from an enjoyable experience.

After being in the air for what often feels like hours on end, you queue to get off the plane before standing in another line to have your passport stamped.

And once that is done, you hang around some more to wait for your luggage.

But for VIPs flying into Abu Dhabi's Al Bateen Executive Airport, the arrivals process is like a dream.

"The plane is parked in front of the VIP lounge," said Faisal Fayaz, a senior fixed base operations officer with DhabiJet, which provides all of the handling services for aircraft landing at Al Bateen.

"You just walk out, go to the VIP lounge, sit for five minutes until your passport gets processed. Outside the car would be waiting for you and you would leave. That's the way it works."

It is perhaps no wonder arrivals are increasing at Al Bateen, the Middle East's only private airport, which is hosting the second annual Abu Dhabi Air Expo this week.

In the past 12 months, DhabiJet welcomed more than 440 new aircraft registrations - evidence of the 40 per cent year-on-year increase in private flights at the airport.

And during last year's Formula One race, movements were up 60 per cent compared with the same period in 2011.

And during last year's Formula One race, movements were up 60 per cent compared with the same period in 2011.

The company expects another surge this year.

"There were maybe 50 [movements] and out of that number, 25 stayed on for four or five days," said Mr Fayaz.

"They came from all different parts of the world. We had some celebrities as well like Michael Schumacher."

And it seems that VIPs like what they see.

DhabiJet was named second in this year's FBO (fixed-base operations) survey conducted by European Business Air News magazine.

People taking part in the survey were offered the chance to choose their favourite FBO, handler or agent from more than 1,700 options.

"We are constantly focused on delivering a high quality of service to what is a very discerning clientele," said Marios Belidis, a DhabiJet senior FBO manager.

But despite the luxurious landing environment, most VIPs are like the rest of us, according to Mr Fayaz.

"They like to leave the airport as soon as possible, all of them," he said. "Even as a normal passenger when you land in any country or any airport, what do you want to do? Go as quickly as possible through immigration.

"And that is our aim, to make the passenger wait as little time as possible."

DhabiJet aims to make them wait no longer than between five to eight minutes, he said.

They are offered Arabic coffee and dates while they wait, but most do not want that as they have everything available on their aircraft.

The people who use the airport come from all over, but they do not always stay that long in Abu Dhabi. Some just come to have lunch.

"It's like getting in your car and deciding to go to Dubai. With private aviation it is countries. They say things like let's go to the UK today," added Mr Fayaz.


Doctor who lost $7K at airport plans to reward worker who turned it in: Hartsfield - Jackson Atlanta International (KATL), Georgia

ATLANTA —  Dr. Troy Zimbelman  planned a vacation with some casino gambling in Costa Rica until he realized he lost an envelope containing $7,000 cash before his flight.

"It probably saved me money by losing that money," the podiatrist laughed as he spoke with Channel 2's Shae Rozzi over the phone Wednesday.

Zimbelman of Prattville, Alabama, said he got lost picking up friends for a "guys fishing trip" to Costa Rica and was running late getting everyone to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for their flight.

"I realized I didn't have the money with me as I was going through security," he said. "I figured I either left it in my car or on the shuttle bus."

Zimbelman told Rozzi that he worried about the lost money during the first day of his trip then figured there wasn't much else he could do while he was out of the country.

He decided to enjoy some golf and fishing instead.

Lucky for him a cashier who works at the Park & Ride parking deck at the International Terminal found the envelope full of cash on the ground next to the curb where shuttle buses pick up passengers.

"I showed the money to the [shuttle] driver then I went right inside and turned it in right away," Pamela North Hollowaay told Rozzi on Tuesday.

"I could've kept the money but I didn't do that. I'm an honest citizen. I'm a taxpayer and I believe in doing the right thing," she said.

Zimbelman called the shuttle service and eventually Atlanta police to see if someone had discovered the money and turned it in.

He said that he gave officers specific details of what was written on the envelope, the specific amount of money, as well as the name of the bank where he had withdrawn the cash.

Zimbelman said he was very surprised to learn that someone turned in all of the money. He says he wants to thank North Hollowaay for her help.

"I'm actually going to send her and the officer a reward," Zimbelman said.

Atlanta police sent North Hollowaay a letter of thanks. 

The letter reads in part, "If it were not for you turning the property into the Atlanta Police Department, the owner would have never been able to locate it! I am certain they are grateful as well."

North Hollowaay said turning in the money was the right thing to do.

"Hopefully if that ever happened to me, someone would turn my money back in too," she said.


Small Airports Irked by Removal of Body Scanners

Managers at dozens of small airports have expressed outrage at federal officials for hauling new full-body scanners away from their facilities and sending them to large hubs that haven't yet upgraded older machines criticized for showing too much anatomy.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration contractors were threatened with arrest after officials at a Montana airport said they received no notice before the workers arrived. In North Dakota, the scanners are set to be yanked from a terminal remodeled last year with $40,000 in local funds just to fit the new machines.

"We think it's silly to have installed the thing and then come back nine months later and take it out," Bismarck airport manager Greg Haug said.

The L3 Millimeter Wave body scanners, which are about the size of a minivan on end and produce cartoonlike outlines of travelers, are being removed from 49 smaller airports across the country to help replace 174 full-body scanners used at larger airports. After controversy erupted over the bare images of a person's body the full-body scanners produce, Congress set a June deadline for them to be removed or updated.

But officials at smaller airports said removing their machines will produce longer lines, increased pat-downs, decreased security and a waste of taxpayer money.

North Dakota officials are especially critical of the swap because the state's airline boardings are skyrocketing with booming oil development. TSA is slated to remove the newly installed scanners this week at airports in Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot.

"It does seem like a waste of time and energy, but the biggest issue is security concerns," state Aeronautics Commissioner Larry Taborsky said of removing the machines. "We are feeding a lot of traffic into the national system."

"Smaller airports are being treated as less important as bigger airports in the system," said Dave Ruppel, manager of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport in Steamboat Springs, Colo. "Any airport you go through is an entrance into the whole system."

Ruppel's airport lost its scanner late last month. He said the move to replace machines at big airports with scanners from smaller airports is "a political solution to a security problem."

TSA said in a statement that it will cost about $2.5 million to remove the machines from the 49 smaller airports and reinstall them at bigger facilities. The agency would not identify the specific airports where the scanners are slated to be removed. Airport directors said the machines cost about $150,000 each.

"TSA's deployment strategy is designed to ensure advanced imaging technology units are in place at checkpoints where they will be used a significant portion of operating hours, increasing overall use across the system," the agency's statement said. "TSA will continue to evaluate airport needs and will reassess its deployment strategy when additional units are procured."

That's little comfort for airport officials who point out the scanners were touted by TSA for being more secure, less intrusive and quicker.

At the Grand Forks airport, a bank of windows at the terminal had to be removed to place the machine, said Patrick Dame, airport director. The airport authority board in Grand Forks passed a resolution last week that prohibits the TSA from altering the terminal to remove the machine that has been in place less than a year.

"They're free to take the equipment, but they can't take the building apart to do so," Dame said.

 Minot's scanning machine has been in place for only about 10 months, airport director Andy Solsvig said.

"With ours, they can disassemble it and wheel it out the door," Solsvig said.

That's what happened Tuesday night at the Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, Calif., said Jack Gotcher, airport director. The airport had its new scanner for about a year but it's now going to Los Angeles International Airport, he said.

"We're back to the metal detector, where we were before," Gotcher said.

Many of the 140,000 boardings at the Bakersfield airport are oil workers heading to North Dakota's rich oil patch in the western part of the state, he said.

The North Dakota Aeronautics Commission said 2012 was a record year at the state's eight commercial airports with more than 1 million boardings, bolstered by big gains in the western part of the state, where booming oil development has spurred huge increases in airline activity.

Haug, Bismarck's airport manager, said to keep the machines, an airport must have had more than 250,000 boardings annually for three consecutive years. Bismarck had 236,000 boardings last year and is projected to surpass that soon.

"It's just a matter of time that they'll have to come back in under mandate and reinstall them because we'll quality as a bigger airport," Haug said. "This is not one of TSA's finest hours."

Airport officials in Helena, Mont., have been more drastic in attempts to keep the machines. Airport manager Ronald Mercer said workers under contract with TSA attempted to pull the machine at the airport last week but were told to leave the property or be arrested.

"We told them we weren't going to allow them to do it," Mercer said.

TSA's decision to remove the machine was a surprise to airport officials, Mercer said.

"We never heard they were coming to get it in the first place and we haven't heard anything since," he said. "We have heard rumors that they are sending federal marshals to come get it."

Taborsky, who has had a hip replacement, said the new machines allowed him to pass through security checkpoints without setting off an alarm. He said he'll likely have to go back to being a subject of pat-downs once the machines are gone.

"I'm going to set off the old metal detector now so it is really personal," Taborsky said. "It's going to impact the elderly, who have had hip or knee replacements, in particular."


Bradley International (KBDL), Windsor Locks, Connecticut: Public meeting on airport noise March 20

WINDSOR LOCKS — A public informational meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20 at the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks at 7 p.m. to review updated Noise Exposure Maps for Bradley International Airport.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is preparing an update to the Noise Exposure Maps for Bradley International Airport. The NEMs were last updated as part of the Federal Aviation Regulations Part 150 Noise Study for Bradley International Airport that concluded in 2003. The study is funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Improvement Program and ConnDOT.

This NEM update for Bradley International Airport will re-evaluate the existing and future noise contours generated by aircraft operations there. Airport-generated noise will be evaluated for existing conditions in 2013 and for a five-year forecast condition. The overall goal of the NEM update study is to update the noise contours and to address aircraft noise impacts in surrounding communities. In this noise study, the noise metric used to determine land use compatibility is the Day-Night Average Noise Level (DNL). The FAA uses a DNL of 65 decibels as the threshold of compatibility for noise-sensitive land uses such as homes, schools, places of worship and hospitals.

Previous airport environmental studies have determined that BDL generates off-airport noise that exceeds federal guidelines in noise sensitive areas (e.g., residential areas). To evaluate and address noise exposure and impacts, ConnDOT, owner and operator of Bradley International Airport, committed to the Federal Aviation Administration that an update to the noise analysis and land use planning would be conducted.

The public is encouraged to attend the March 20 information meeting to offer their opinions regarding the update to the NEMs.

Questions concerning this meeting or the NEM study can be referred to Robert J. Bruno, chief of engineering services, Connecticut Department of Transportation, Bureau of Aviation at 860-594-2535. 


Rep. Rick Larsen to Federal Aviation Administration: Keep Air Traffic Control Tower at Paine Field Open to Protect National Interest

March 06, 2013

WASHINGTON—Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, today urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to remove the air traffic control tower at Paine Field from a list of possible tower closures. Larsen, the top Democrat on the House Aviation Subcommittee, wrote FAA Administrator Michael Huerta that the use of Paine Field by Boeing and Aviation Technical Services makes it a critical economic asset of national significance.

The text of Larsen’s letter to Huerta is below:

March 6, 2013

The Honorable Michael P. Huerta


Federal Aviation Administration

800 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20591

Dear Administrator Huerta:

I am concerned about the potential closure of the air traffic control tower at Paine Field in Everett, Washington. While I understand that the air traffic control tower at Paine Field does not fall into the first round of closures, notices from FAA have indicated that it could be slated to close this year.

Both in your February 27, 2013, testimony before the House Aviation Subcommittee and in your letter dated March 5, 2013, to airports participating in the FAA Contract Tower program, you indicated that your agency is working to “identify any locations where the national interest would be adversely affected by tower closure.” I believe that Paine Field fits this criteria.

The national aerospace economy is concentrated in the Northwest, and Paine Field plays an important role at the center of that economy. While Paine Field supports a vibrant General Aviation operation, it also serves as the platform for a huge portion of the region’s economy. As the home to the largest facility for The Boeing Company—the only air transport manufacturer in the United States and the nation’s largest exporter—Paine Field serves as an important national asset. Aviation Technical Services (ATS) is also located at Paine Field, and is the largest third-party aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul operation in North America. Much of their business with large aircraft necessitates a control tower in order to ensure the highest level of safety.

The production, transportation and repair of large airplanes need a fully operating air traffic control tower. Closure of the air traffic control tower at Paine Field would significantly limit Paine Field’s ability to support the cornerstone of the Pacific Northwest aviation economy and would hurt the national economy by impacting the operations of the country’s largest exporter.

I appreciate your continued leadership during difficult budget circumstances, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to ensure that our aviation system remains the safest and most efficient in the world.


Rick Larsen

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Aviation


Shooter branded a coward by airport director

The airport employee who shot and damaged a crucial piece of landing equipment with a shotgun, causing travel chaos last year, has been branded a coward by the Airport’s chief executive.

During an internal investigation into what caused damage to the Instrument Landing System, which helps pilots land in poor visibility, Doug Bannister said that nobody had come forward to admit shooting a vital cable while trying to scare birds.

The system was out of action for around four weeks while it was being repaired and hundreds of passengers experienced delays as fog hit the Island.

Since the incident, the Airport’s firearms police security has  been tightened.

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Ontario, Canada: Markham says end freeze on some airport lands

Markham has opted not to side with a Markham landowners group in its bid to remove airport land restrictions in the northeast quadrant of the city.

Instead, the city will ask the province to remove restrictions on lands that are slated for growth.

A provincial zoning order freezes all development within about six kilometres east and west of the federally-owned land held for the proposed Pickering airport just south of Stouffville.

Last year, the North Markham Landowners Group filed an application to the province to remove airport land restrictions spread across about 880 hectares of land split between nine properties.

The zoning order was put in place in the early 1970s to protect the area and set height limitations on areas surrounding the proposed Pickering airport.

Landowners are required to appeal to the province to remove the zoning restriction for each patch of property.

“This zoning is antiquated and unnecessary,” said Don Given, president of planning and consulting firm Malone Given Parsons Ltd. and representative for the landowners group.

“And that makes removal of the zoning restriction a patchwork process. The zoning order was a heavy handed approach.”

Instead, the group is appealing to the Ontario Municipal Board to remove the entire restriction on all Markham lands and is asking for the city’s support.

Of the nine properties blanketed by provincial zoning order, three are entirely within the region and the city’s urban boundary and are slated for development in the near future.

The properties are owned by Fieldgate Developments: 10227 Kennedy Rd., 4638 Major Mackenzie Dr. and 4551 Elgin Mills Rd. 

The restriction does cover parts or sections of the other properties, which are listed under the city’s official plan as agricultural land.

The other properties are at 11162 Kennedy Rd., owned by Fieldgate, 4044 Elgin Mills Rd., owned by Romandale Farms Ltd., 10466 Hwy. 48, owned by Cavcoe Holdings, 10566 Hwy. 48, owned by H&R Developments, and 10541 Hwy. 48 and 10192 Ninth Line, both owned by Emery Investments.

Ward 1 Councillor Valerie Burke argued removing the blanket ban is premature. Instead she proposed the city support the zoning restriction removal on lands only within the city’s urban boundary.

“Councillors fought had to protect that farmland,” she said. “This is just another layer of protection.”

The city is in the secondary plan process for those areas and development is expected within the next five years, the city’s development services commissioner Jim Baird said.

“We know there is going to be development there,” Mr. Baird said. “Might as well apply (to the province) and ask for the removal. There is no harm is starting the process.”

Deputy mayor and Regional Councillor Jack Heath agreed.

“Might as well tell the province this is coming,” he said. “If the province wants residential intensification, then it has to remove the restriction.”

If the municipal board agrees with the developer and requests removal of the entire zoning order, there are several other layers of protection for the area, including the province’s Greenbelt and Oak Ridges Moraine protection plans and the city’s zoning bylaw and official plan, Mr. Baird said.


On the whole, closing airport's tower won't fly

By Michael Fitzgerald
Record Columnist
March 06, 2013 12:00 AM

Thanks to the sequester, the federal air controllers in Stockton's airport tower might be furloughed. The airport could become an "uncontrolled field."

How's that going to work?

I was braced for bad news. The shrug of an answer came as a surprise.

"There's safety procedures in place that we follow," said Patrick T. Carreno, the director of Stockton Metropolitan Airport. "The pilots, they're trained to go through uncontrolled airports."

So much for the lurid and sensational lobe in the reporter's brain that thought he'd hear, "If the air controllers are furloughed, all hell will break loose. We're talking midair collisions, carnage."

In fact, pilots land safely at thousands of uncontrolled airports nationwide. Locally, the airports at Tracy, Byron, Oakdale, Lodi-Kingdon, Lodi-Hwy 99, and Franklin near Elk Grove are uncontrolled.

Even Stockton's airport is uncontrolled overnight when "operations" (landings and takeoffs) are scarce.

Here's how the system works. During the day, Stockton's tower has responsibility for air traffic within a five-mile radius and an altitude from the surface up to 2,500 feet.

But if the air controllers are furloughed, pilots just switch to a "common traffic advisory frequency." Pilots keep a healthy distance from each other by radio communications.

In good weather, they don't even need radio. They can eyeball it.

"I learned how to fly at an airport in Kalispell, Mont., 25 years ago," said Rick Tutt, a commercial pilot. "At that airport we had airlines, military, emergency medical, crop dusting, parachute jumping and flight training. We all spoke to one another on the radio and we all coordinated with each other our arrivals and departures. And it all worked out really well."

Stockton is not a busy airport (a comedian who flew in for a Stockton gig once told me, "I couldn't even get arrested there.") It has one passenger airline, Allegiant. Allegiant runs one or two flights daily.

No cargo companies currently operate there. Roughly 150 small planes come and go every day. That's an average of 11 landings or takeoffs an hour between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., when the tower is staffed.

That doesn't mean nothing can go wrong. But Stockton's airport is well within the range of airports that can manage without air traffic controllers.

"Some airlines prefer to have towers, especially as your total operations go up," Carreno said. "If there's more aircraft flying around in the pattern they want to see more safety there. That's where the controllers come in."

But no specific business deals are jeopardized by the prospect of a furloughed tower, Carreno said.

Stockton's airport has never seen a major air crash. Unless you count one in 1946, when two military B-29s collided over Stockton in heavy fog. The planes crashed west of town. Eighteen airmen died. Three survived.

Air traffic control is a matter of not only of safety but efficiency, said Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

Air traffic controllers move air traffic along faster. Without them, "fewer flights will be able to take off and land and the traveling public and the many businesses that rely on our air travel system will be impacted by the delays," Church said.

That's truer of big airports. For Stockton, air traffic controllers are an extra margin of safety. But Stockton could manage without them, if it had to.

A budget hawk might say if we can do without 11 federal employees, we should. The county, which pays utilities and other overhead on the tower, would save money, too.

A local economist would want to keep the high-paying salaries in the community.

I say Stockton's air controller tower is one of the few areas in which Uncle Sam does more than the minimum for Stockton. May the ax fall elsewhere.