Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Concerns raised about control tower staffing: Boca Raton Airport (KBCT), Palm Beach County, Florida

The Boca Raton Airport Authority passed its budget despite a "no" vote from one member, and a question was raised about staffing at the airport's control tower.

Jim Costa, who runs the Boca Raton Pilots' Association, raised the staffing issue at the monthly authority meeting Aug. 17 in Boca Raton City Council chambers. "The tower has been short staffed as of two weeks ago," Costa said, citing a six-year employee who is gone.

Costa said he spoke to Robinson Aviation Inc., the company that provides air traffic controllers to Boca, and was told "Florida is difficult to staff because of the high cost of living. They hope they can bring staff up to the two openings."

The present controllers are working overtime, he added.

"We all agree that safety is the No. 1 issue and we need a full-time tower…," Costa said, citing the infrastructure including schools and shopping malls in the airport's flight path.

RVA could not be reached for comment as of press time. The firm provides 97 airports with air traffic controllers, according to its website.

Authority chairman Gene Folden asked airport executive director Clara Bennett for a response: "The tower manager is certified and running one of two shifts, so they are at required staffing. Someone will start in September" from the local area, so the cost of living wasn't a factor.

Another job candidate is "going through the cycle for the extra slot a few weeks from now," she said.

RVA's contract is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration, not through the airport, Bennett said.

"Boca Raton is one of the lower activity towers, plus a manager can have two controllers on at the busier times of day. They have three plus a manager. They will have a full staff by September," she said

"At any time in the last few months has RVA been in breach of contract?" asked authority member Cheryl Budd.

"Not to my knowledge," Bennett said. "Hopefully this is a temporary situation as of two weeks ago."

"The manager appears comfortable as a controller," said authority vice chairman Bill Schwartz.

"He can take on a shift," Bennett said. "It's always good to have an extra person there."

She said the airport is at "a reduced activity period" now before season starts.

Bennett also presented the proposed airport operating and capital budgets for the fiscal year, which is Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2017.

Authority member William Helwig asked for a discussion on issues that included funds for legal fees and salary levels for staff.

"Legal services are way out of line," he said.

Folden announced that Helwig wanted a workshop first.

"I have an issue with manpower. A big issue," Helwig said, also questioning whether the Airport Authority should be funding an aeronautics scholarship in memory of the late airport manager Ken Day.

"Let's go through it, but I feel like it's game day and everyone is familiar" enough with the budget to vote on it, Budd said.

The authority, staff and consultants addressed some of Helwig's concerns, but by the end of the meeting, the budget was approved 6-1 with Helwig voting "no."


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