Governor Turns To TXDOT To Fund Air Traffic Control For 13 Airports

Aerial of Central Unit and Sugar Land Regional Airport in Texas [USGS]
The Federal Aviation Administration has slashed funding for 149 control towers across the country, due to sequestration. TXDOT will step in to keep control towers open at 13 small airports, including Sugar Land Regional, when those facilities lose federal funding next month.

TXDOT says Governor Rick Perry has asked the agency to step in when the federal budget cuts take effect.

Doug Adolph is with the City of Sugar Land, where the air traffic control tower at Sugar Land Regional Airport would be affected by those cuts.

"We were notified yesterday that the state intends to provide temporary emergency funding that could keep our tower operating for the next 90 days. I can't tell you how much we appreciate the recognition that our airport plays a very important part of the regional economy."

Governor Perry has asked the agency to provide the emergency assistance.

If temporary funding is approved, the state would re-evaluate providing additional funding after 90 days. Control towers were slated to begin closing on April 7. 

Adolph says the governor and state transportation officials realize the importance of keeping the towers operating not just for safety, but for commerce as well.

"We know that operating this airport without a tower is simply not an option. That tower provides controlled airspace, it includes six full-time air traffic controllers who operate very important radar and weather equipment. And so, it's in our best interest to continue to work with our elected leaders, to identify a permanent solution to this problem."

The problem he says, should have never affected operations at Sugar Land Regional, which handles more than 85,000 takeoffs and landings a year.

"When the FAA told us that sequestration was going to affect funding for our tower, they provided us the opportunity to make a case that closure of the tower would have a national consequence. Sugar Land Regional Airport is the largest reliever airport in the state of Texas, and we routinely relieve traffic for Hobby and Intercontinental, which is one of the busiest hubs in the nation. So, we're really having a hard time understanding, why the rules continue to change, why we are impacted by these federal cuts. We believe that the federal government needs to re-establish long term funding for that tower."

The Texas Transportation Commission gets the final say on whether TXDOT can use its $193 million aviation budget to fund the control towers. Adolph says officials estimate keeping Sugar Land and 12 other towers open would cost about $7 million a year.

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Pat Hernandez

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Pat Hernandez is a general assignments reporter who joined the KUHF news staff in February of 2008...