Naples, Page Field on list of air traffic towers losing federal funding

Airplanes circulate through the Naples Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, in Naples. David Albers/ Staff

Photo by DAVID ALBERS // Buy this photo

Airplanes circulate through the Naples Municipal Airport on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, in Naples. David Albers/ Staff

Three Southwest Florida airports will lose federal funding for air traffic control towers as part of sequestration cuts announced Friday by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Naples Municipal Airport, Page Field in Fort Myers and the Punta Gorda Airport in Charlotte County each made the list of 12 Florida airports and 149 airports across the country to lose funding based on their number of annual operations.

The cuts will take place over a four-week period beginning April 7, but do not necessarily guarantee that affected airports will close.

To stay open, those airports will have to enter into expensive contracts with their own air traffic control programs.

Gary Quill, director of the Charlotte County Port Authority, said it’s a shame Florida, a state known for its aviation expertise, saw the most closures out of any state.

“You’d think it would be a priority,” Quill said.

James Parish, assistant director of the Charlotte County Port Authority, said passengers who have already booked flights at the Punta Gorda airport should keep their arrangements.

“Nothing is going to change here as far as airline flights and general aviation,” he said. “If it changes, it will change way down the road.”

Staff at the Naples Municipal Airport did not comment Friday about their plans, but have said the cuts would be devastating. They did not have an estimate Friday on the cost of the cuts or what it would cost to contract on their own.

“Losing our tower would have a significant impact on our community,” Executive Director Ted Soliday said earlier this month.

In a press release, Vicki Moreland, spokeswoman for the Lee County Port Authority, said Page Field’s executive director and staff would be prepared to answer more questions about the cuts following a special meeting Tuesday.

“The Lee County Port Authority is extremely disappointed that Page Field remained on the FAA list for closures in April, as it is an essential part of the air transportation system in Southwest Florida,” Moreland wrote. “Page Field’s air traffic control tower enhances the safe and orderly flow of general and commercial aviation into and out of our region. We anticipate working with FAA for a smooth transition for continued safe operations at Page Field.”

A press release from the American Association of Airport Executives said the decision by the FAA “raises serious safety, efficiency, and economic concerns that the agency has failed to consider,” citing the U.S. Contract Tower Association.

There are 251 airports using the FAA’s contract tower program. The 149 cut represent about 60 percent of the program.

Federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood first announced $600 million in possible cuts before the government’s sequester cuts went through earlier this month. His statements caused concerns that delays would affect passengers, but so far, no such delays have occurred here, officials said.

The FAA began evaluating the nation’s smallest airports in the program based on annual flight operations: those with fewer than 150,000 annual flights and 10,000 commercial operations.

Airports were given the chance to plea their case to the FAA, stating why a closure of their facility would negatively affect national interest.

Naples staff argued in their March 12 letter that as a seasonal airport, they are busier in their busiest months than some airports the FAA chose to continue funding. Naples had 87,000 flight operations last year.

If the program was cut, the letter stated, airlines would go elsewhere, be forced to operate unsafely or create delays for passengers.

LIST OF AIRPORT TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWERS LOSING FEDERAL FUNDING

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