The Tyler Pounds Regional Airport control tower, along with the airport, will remain open despite a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to discontinue funding for it and 13 other contract towers in Texas, city officials said at a Friday news conference.
“We may look at funding air traffic control through a city funding source,” she said. “The bottom line is, our airport will not close,” Ms. Guthrie said.
Dickson said there are six air traffic controllers at the Tyler Pounds control tower now and that airplanes could still land with the help of personnel at control towers in Shreveport, La. and Fort Worth. The FAA will begin to make the cuts to control staff on April 7, Dickson said.
In February, Dickson said the airport has procedures in place to continue operating if the FAA should discontinue funding. In addition to using Fort Worth or Shreveport, La., for approach control services, there would be a shift to UNICOM, a system that allows air traffic on the ground to communicate with air traffic in the air, he said.
Air traffic already uses UNICOM when the control tower is closed between 9:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. However, Dickson had said air traffic control is much more efficient.
All air traffic control employees at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport are employed by RVA, a contractor for the FAA, Dickson said. Dickson, who has been the airport manager for almost 19 years, said in February that he has never seen a suspension of air traffic control service.
Tom Mullins, president and chief executive officer of the Tyler Economic Development Council and the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, said Friday, “While it (discontinued FAA funding) is not something we want to happen, I appreciate the city's willingness to fund the controllers — we are the regional airport in this area.”
On March 5, city officials learned that the Tyler airport's air traffic control tower has been slated for possible closure. In a March 8 letter addressed to the FAA, Dickson said, “Closing the control tower in Tyler could jeopardize the safety, security and efficiency of our airport and could mean the loss of jobs in our entire region.”
In an attached report to the FAA, Dickson said Tyler Pounds is the largest airport in the East Texas region and is responsible for processing between 150,000 to 200,000 commercial passengers each year.
The airport serves as a diversionary stop for airline traffic when there is bad weather in Houston or Dallas, and air ambulances for Mother Frances Hospital and East Texas Regional Medical Center use Tyler Pounds when transporting patients, the report from Dickson stated. A portion of the helicopter fleet from both hospitals is housed at the airport, the report stated.
The report also stated that the “capital expenditures from 2006 to 2010 (at the airport) generated $22.5 million in economic activity that created 209 job years of economic activity.” A job year equals one job lasting one year, the report stated.
Other federal contract towers at Texas airports that are on the closure list in addition to Tyler Pounds list are: New Braunfels Municipal, Brownsville/South Padre Island International, Easterwood Field in College Station, TSTC in Waco, Lone Star Executive in Houston, Georgetown Municipal, San Marcos Municipal, Dallas Executive, Sugar Land Regional in Houston, Stinson Municipal in San Antonio, Collin County Regional at McKinney and Victoria Regional.
The FAA decided to keep 24 federal contract towers open that had been proposed for closure. This is because closing these would have negatively affected the national interest, according to a news release.
Sixteen other federal contract towers that operate under a “cost share” program will remain open because Congressional statute sets aside funds each fiscal year for these towers, according to the news release.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the agency heard from many communities about the importance of their towers and these were “very tough decisions,” according to the news release.
“Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration,” LaHood said, according to the news release.
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency “will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports,” according to the news release.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.