Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times
While the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it will close 173 air traffic control towers on April 7 and another 16 towers come Sept. 30 due to the forced spending cuts known as sequestration, the Valdosta Regional Airport is in no danger.
“(Our tower) does not receive any federal funding,” said Valdosta Regional Airport Director and Manager Jim Galloway.
The air traffic controllers are employed by Advanced Air Traffic Control.
“They are a private company that operates the tower for us,” said Galloway.
The tower itself is owned by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Airport Authority.
Advanced ATC has a partnership with Wiregrass Georgia Technical College. Advanced ATC conducts ground and simulator training at Wiregrass for no cost while Wiregrass students who are seeking their air traffic control certificate conduct live traffic for free for Advanced ATC.
Galloway noted that there are always certified controllers in the tower at all times and that all controllers are FAA certified.
“A private tower is not the norm,” said Galloway.
There are two types of ways control towers normally function. There are FAA federally operated towers manned by federal employees, and FAA contract towers in which towers are staffed with contractors instead of FAA
Up until early 2009, the Valdosta airport was a contract tower, and according to reports by CNN, such towers handle approximately 28 percent of all control tower operation, although the towers being cut account for a little less than 6 percent of commercial airline operations.
The control towers to be cut are slated to affect small- to medium-sized airports and could possibly affect 27 airports in both Georgia and Florida.
“No final decisions have been made yet on tower closures,” said an FAA representative in response to an email from The Times.
According to a list on the FAA website titled “Air Traffic Control Facilities That Could be Closed,” Georgia airports include the Cobb County-McCollum Field Airport in Atlanta, the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in Macon, the Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field Airport in Lawrenceville, the Fulton County-Brown Field Airport in Atlanta, the Columbus Metropolitan Airport in Columbus, the Athen-Ben Epps Airport in Athens, and the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany.
Some Florida airports listed include the Cecil Airport in Jacksonville, the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine, and the Craig Municipal Airport in Jacksonville.
Tower closures would not necessarily result in airport closures, because some aircraft can land without air traffic control help, according to CNN, and those that need controller help can communicate with more distant FAA facilities. However, the contract tower closings will contribute to the workload at other FAA facilities, which will be coping with controller furloughs.
Various media outlets have additionally reported that spending cuts would affect other FAA employees and staff such as Transportation Safety Administration workers who are expected to be furloughed and furloughs for air traffic controllers in towers that haven’t been cut.