Airport tower closing

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that it will close 149 air traffic control towers, including the facility at the Williamsport Regional Airport on Sept. 30.

The local tower is on a list of 16 cost-sharing facilities that will remain open until the end of September, however other towers on the FAA’s list will close as of April 7.

Of the six air traffic control towers in Pennsylvania that were on the FAA’s closure list, the Williamsport Regional Airport was the only one that will remain open until Sept. 30.

The announcement comes after federal legislators voiced their concern to the FAA to keep the air traffic control tower manned at the local airport despite being on a closure list because of automatic government budget cuts.

U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, along with U.S. Rep. Thomas A. Marino, R-Cogan Station, signed a letter of support this week to keep contracted air traffic controllers on the job at the local airport.

Meanwhile, airport officials have filed a formal appeal with the FAA to keep the tower, which guides departures and landings and assists pilots as needed, open.

“The Marcellus Shale natural gas industry is prominent in this region and has had a positive national impact on the price of natural gas, as the domestic supply provides a less expensive alternative to other energy sources,” the legislators wrote in their letter to Michael Huerta, FAA administrator. “With the Marcellus Shale industry’s reliance on the airport for quick and reliable service to the area, it is likely that the lack of airport tower services could ultimately prove to be damaging to the nation’s economy. The industry has also created thousands of jobs in the Williamsport area and (the) airport is part of the reason they were attracted to this region.”

The legislators also cited increased air traffic from across the globe during the Little League Baseball World Series as a reason to keep the control tower open.

“We believe that a path can be found to continue funding the Williamsport Regional Airport’s air traffic control tower,” they wrote to Huerta.

Thomas J. Hart, airport authority executive director, said Friday afternoon that he did not hear from the FAA regarding the status of the airport’s appeal.

Mark Murawski, county transportation planner and chairman of the Williamsport Regional Airport Authority, said the area’s changeable weather patterns and mountainous terrain are other reasons why the control tower should be operational.

He said the federal government provides $411,000 to employ a handful of contract air traffic control employees. Lycoming County adds another $96,000.

If subsidies from the federal government are cut, Murawski said the employees who work there now still will be employed until the end of September.

“That gives time for us to come up with ‘Plan B,'” Murawski said.

Plan B could be the use of what he previously termed “advisers” in the control tower who could assist pilots as needed.

Hart said that as a cost-share air traffic control tower, federal funds already have been appropriated for the local facility up to Sept. 30. He added that his goal is to get funding for the next fiscal year.

Murawski stressed that the airport and terminal building remain in operation with daily commercial and general aviation flights.