The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 11, 2013

Greenbrier airport tower to stay open

LEWISBURG — The Greenbrier Valley Airport’s air-traffic control tower will remain open, along with 148 others that were threatened with closure as a result of federal budget cuts.

Airport manager Jerry O’Sullivan said he received word of the reprieve Friday afternoon.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced they will fund all 149 towers at least until Oct. 1,” O’Sullivan said.

The contract towers at small and midsize airports across the country were slated to close June 15, victims of a federal budget impasse that triggered automatic spending cuts referred to as sequestration. The Federal Aviation Administration’s budget was slashed by $637 million under sequestration.

Late last month, Congress passed a measure that gives new latitude to the DOT in shuffling funds around, freeing the FAA to use part of the $253 million at stake to halt controller furloughs and keep the contract towers open as well.

President Obama signed the legislation May 1.

The FAA announced the end of air-traffic controller furloughs even before the president’s signature was affixed to the bill, but the decision regarding the fate of the contract towers — like Greenbrier Valley’s and two others in West Virginia — was slower in the making.

“I’m very happy to see the Department of Transportation has funded this priority issue and hope they will continue to fund it in the future,” O’Sullivan said Friday.

Officials at Greenbrier Valley Airport were proactive in both lobbying for federal relief and pursuing alternative sources of funding to keep the tower operating.

O’Sullivan told The Register-Herald in February, when the tower was first threatened with closure, “The control tower is our most important aircraft safety measure.”

In Washington Friday, Rep. Nick Rahall commented, “The FAA’s decision to continue contract tower operations is on the glide path Congress intended when we gave the agency the flexibility to keep our skies safer with contract tower operations.

“It is up to Congress now to taxi our budgetary problems up to the gate safely and aligned with the needs of the American people, lest we face this same problem in the next fiscal year.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller said, “I’m glad that the Department of Transportation has used the resources that Congress provided to keep 149 contract air traffic control towers open through this fiscal year. This decision means that airports in many communities — including four in West Virginia — will continue to have access to critical air traffic control services.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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