Sequestration claims airport tower
by Jon Gillooly
March 07, 2013 12:18 PM | 7068 views | 15 15 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
the tower at McCollum Field
the tower at McCollum Field
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KENNESAW — Across-the-board federal budget cuts are expected to force the shutdown of Cobb County’s air-traffic control tower starting April 7.

The Federal Aviation Administration notified the county this week that it would no longer fund on-site traffic control for the airport because its mandated cuts are targeting non-airline airports.

McCollum Airport will continue to operate and be staffed by county employees, but planes will have to rely on plane-to-plane communications in order to land, said airport manager Karl Von Hagel.

Von Hagel said it’s akin to a traffic light shutting down at a busy intersection, forcing drivers to operate the way they do at a four-way stop. The concern is that some pilots might decide to bypass the Cobb airport because of real or perceived issues with traffic back-ups or safety concerns, he said.

Yet pilots will be hard-pressed to find many airports in the state with operating control towers outside of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Von Hagel said six other Georgia control towers are preparing for closure: Fulton County-Brown Field, Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field in Lawrenceville, Athens-Ben Epps, Columbus Metropolitan, Southwest Georgia Regional in Albany, and Middle Georgia Regional in Macon.

“It will be a reduction in the margin of safety, it will be a less efficient operation, and it’s possible some aircraft owners or pilots will elect to go to other airports that do have control towers,” Von Hagel said. “It’s a standard of safety that everybody makes their independent judgment.”

County Chairman Tim Lee said not only does the move increase safety concerns at the airport, it hurts the county’s efforts with business recruitment. Lee denounced the federal government’s sequestration.

“Yes, they need to look at realistic cuts, but making a unilateral cut for the FAA which takes away control towers in one of our biggest economic development drivers and one of our job creators is just poor sighted on their part,” Lee said.

Seven to lose their jobs

The federal government spends about $700,000 a year for one part-time and six full-time employees to provide air-traffic control services at McCollum Field. Those people will be laid off until further notice, Von Hagel said.

“Right now it’s indefinite,” he said. “We’ve not been given notice of the duration. The issue is it’s part of sequestration, so the reason nobody knows the answer is nobody knows when sequestration cuts will be resolved or if the FAA will have the latitude to make other adjustments.”

Control towers selected for shutdown by the FAA have fewer than 150,000 take-off and landing counts.

“That’s where they put their cut off, so they’re closing 246 control towers across the country. There’s only 515 control towers in the country,” Von Hagel said.

McCollum Field had 62,387 take-offs and landings during 2012.

“It frustrates me that the cuts are being focused on the front lines, on where the safety and efficiency of the operation are felt the most,” Von Hagel said.

No national impact

In its March 5 letter to Cobb County, the FAA claimed the impact of the closure is local and does not affect the national interest. The FAA recommended that the county could pay for air traffic control at its own expense, although Lee said that is not something he is considering.

The airport contributes $112.4 million in local economic impact, with a total of 842 jobs that are dependent on airport activity.

The announcement does not impact the county’s plans to build a new $2.5 million control tower next fall to replace the current one, built in 1995.

“We continue to plan for the new control tower because this perhaps temporary budget situation doesn’t change our needs, and capital funding is not effected by sequestration,” Von Hagel said.
Comments
(15)
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Nice try
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March 10, 2013
Just a thought: an increase of $11 per take off or landing would completely fund the current budget for ATC as mentioned in the article.

Why should federal tax dollars be paying for ATC at all? This sounds like one of the best things the sequester has actually accomplished so far :P

Old timed
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March 08, 2013
I do not have a plane, fly out of the Cobb airport, or know anyone who does......but...jezzzz so much class warfare.....we all would like to have more.
a lie
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March 08, 2013
Obama is up to his old trick scare tactics some places may close just for show just to scare but now we will really see the REAL Obama.
Cobb Taxpayer
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March 08, 2013
This should be a private airport and the users should pay 100% of the expenses - not the local taxpayers, the state taxpayers nor the us federal taxpayers.

Nothing but a rich persons convenience !
mk-truthbtold
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March 08, 2013
Let 'illegals' man the tower. Pay them 8-9 bucks an hour!

$17,000-$18,000 per year, instead of the $100,000!

Now that would be a mucho dinero to the taxpayers, eh?

Cha-ching!!!

And they work harder, too,.. just ask Tim Lee.
anonymous
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March 08, 2013
Actually, for once (looking past the usual sarcasm and negativity), you are on to something. The private sector has dealt with pay cuts, layoffs, reduced benefits, etc. for more than 10 years. It is time now for the public sector to pony up. I guarantee those jobs could be filled with top quality Americans paying them $50,000 instead of $100,000. And cut those six into five. Cut out a few government paid holidays and take away a few days vacation. Do that all over the entire government and our entire deficit would go away in no time and we would be operating at a profit. And we would have top quality government employees that appreciated their jobs and what benefits they did get far, far more than the ones we have now! I wish I could run the government for just one day.
FROM TEXAS
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March 08, 2013
Yea I was going to go on a boondoggle with Tim Lee and Bank of North Georgia, I guess we’ll have to take limo or fly with the presents out of Hartsfield. Bet Al Jazeera Gore’s small airport didn’t get closed, life just not fair for us rich so called Republican’s. So you just need a Yuppie Air Tax and let the Georgia State Patrol take over the airport, the state needs to be in control anyway we need to divest any Fed control so we command the skies over Georgia.
VFP42
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March 08, 2013
Can we call the new, empty tower Conservative Cobb's Tower To Nowhere in 2016?
From Kennesaw
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March 07, 2013
The airport is owned by Cobb County. Nobody can/will tell us (taxpayers in Cobb) what the expense and profit is from having a small airport in our backyards. If you want to have an airplane and use it at McCollum, you pay for the cost.
Schools and Teachers
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March 07, 2013
Hey we have less teachers, shorter library hours and reduced hours at the county facilities.

If we do not want higher taxes then the Federal government should reduce their spending like the rest of the country has already done.

End of story!
Empty deal
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March 07, 2013
Why build a control tower if there are no controllers. If you think that money will be restored you are kidding yourselves. Those who own planes that iuse the field should be paying 100 percent of the associated costs. The whole airport is a government folly which takes our taxes without any return to the residents.
JDR123
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March 07, 2013
They do. The national airspace system and most local airport operations are funded by Federal Excise Taxes on aviation fuel and commercial activities. In exchange, these aircraft owners make it possible for millions of dollars worth of business to be more easily done in Cobb County.
Dollars
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March 07, 2013
You are so right. Private planes are for the rich and with the new onboard GPS systems, an Air Traffic Controller is not really needed at such a small airport.

That is a really easy job.
disappointed voter
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March 07, 2013
Go Obama!!!!
Tclab
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March 07, 2013
Nah..that's way to go GOP. The base had been a growing proposition for Cobb.
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