Temporary funding keeps air traffic towers open



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Posted on April 4, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 4 at 5:13 PM

AUSTIN -- The State of Texas is stepping in to help keep more than a dozen Texas airport control towers open and staffed.

A total of 14 towers, including one in Georgetown and another in San Marcos, faced closure this Sunday when federal sequester cuts take effect.

Governor Rick Perry urged state agencies to find a way to financially support the towers. On Thursday, the Texas Transportation Commission held an emergency meeting to review the governor’s request.

The four-man commission took in dozens of opinions. Airport managers and city mayors took turns going before the commission, pushing for the help.

“Who's going to be an umpire up there in the sky saying ‘who's going in first’ (and) ‘who's second.’ There's a safety issue here and there's also a lot of jobs at stake from an economic development standpoint,” said Commissioner Jeff Austin, III.

"You start playing a little bit with safety," said Director of the New Braunfels Regional Airport Lennie Llerena.

Llerena spoke at the meeting with another concern.

"Our tower keeps separation between those jets and the private aircrafts that are coming into the New Braunfels Airport," he said.

Initially, commissioners were considering funding just 13 towers. However, prior to voting they added an airport in Texarkana to the list.

The four unanimously approved the expense. Two million dollars will now be spent to keep the 14 Texas towers open. It is a temporary solution, covering the costs of 90 days of emergency assistance. It would ultimately cost $7 million to keep the towers open for a year.

Commissioner Fred Underwood, who is also a pilot, said the $2 million that will fund the 14 contract towers for 90 days comes from money already in the aviation budget, and won't impact any other transportation projects.

"This money is from the aviation budget, and it's not going to effect the maintenance budget or our construction budget," Underwood said.

"As a pilot I don't want to fly into an airport that's not controlled," he added.

Underwood said the panel will get monthly updates from the airports at their commissioners meetings.
He said when the $2 million runs out, the panel will analyze the situation again.

State lawmakers are expected to meet in July to consider spending the extra money. Otherwise, airport officials say the expense may fall upon each city.

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