The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 16, 2013

Greenbrier Airport Authority joins FAA suit

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

MAXWELTON — The Greenbrier County Airport Authority voted unanimously to join dozens of other airport-related agencies in a lawsuit challenging the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close 150 air-traffic control towers.

Several lawsuits are now pending against the FAA, and one of those challenges resulted in the agency’s postponement of the planned cascade of tower closings, according to Greenbrier Valley Airport manager Jerry O’Sullivan. As it now stands, all of the towers on the FAA’s closure list will be shuttered on the same day — June 15. Prior to the suit-prompted change, Greenbrier Valley’s tower was slated to close May 5.

O’Sullivan recommended the Airport Authority join one of the suits, estimating the cost of partnering with other agencies to try to keep the towers open at $2,000.

“I think we should belly up and do it,” O’Sullivan told the Authority members gathered for their regular quarterly meeting Monday evening.

Authority member Betty Crookshanks agreed with O’Sullivan’s assessment, saying, “It would show there are people concerned about (the planned tower closures).”

In addition to researching the litigation question, the airport manager told the Authority that he has secured bids from contractors interested in taking on the tower’s operation, if the scheduled federal shut-down occurs.

O’Sullivan solicited bids based on the original closing target of May 5, with the contract to run through the end of September. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and speculation has held that the FAA may be able to find the funds in the new fiscal year to resume supporting at least some of the towers now scheduled for closure.

Midwest ATC, the company that currently holds the federal contract to staff and operate Greenbrier Valley’s tower, bid slightly more than $150,000 for the five months called for in the bid advertisement.

Two other companies — both of which are newcomers to tower operation in this region, according to O’Sullivan — submitted significantly lower bids. Defense Contract Services’ bid was around $93,000 for the five-month term, and Dynamic Science bid $15,000 per month.

O’Sullivan said, as the deadline approaches, he plans to re-bid the contract to get the most accurate estimate of what the cost will be to keep the tower open.

He is also monitoring the situation in Congress, where an Oklahoma senator is receiving bipartisan support for a measure that would remove the towers from consideration for budget sequester cuts.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Congressman Nick Rahall sent a letter to the federal Department of Transportation and FAA stating that the agencies’ sequestration implementation is “disproportionately hurting air traffic control service in rural communities.” The letter was co-signed by a bipartisan group of seven Congressional representatives.

Even if the federal government does withdraw financial support for the contract towers, however, O’Sullivan said other funding options are possible. Last week, he made a pitch to the Greenbrier County Commission, which may tap hotel/motel tax revenue to provide a temporary infusion of cash, if needed.

O’Sullivan has also initiated discussions with state legislators regarding the potential for the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission to include funding for towers at Greenbrier Valley, Parkersburg and Wheeling, all of which are now threatened with closure. He said the Texas Department of Transportation is considering funding 14 towers there that are under the same federal death sentence.

“We have a number of options,” O’Sullivan assured the Airport Authority.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com