Airport's control tower could close

By Haley Burton
By Matt Porter

March 8, 2013 Updated Mar 8, 2013 at 7:41 PM EDT

Town of Maine, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The air traffic control facility at the Greater Binghamton Airport is on the Federal Aviation Administration's list of possible closures due to cuts to the federal budget.

Air Traffic Control Facilities That Could be Closed

The FAA says it plans to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year.

It is considering closing more than 100 air traffic control towers at airports with fewer than 150,000 flight operations or 10,000 commercial operations per year.

This includes control towers at the Greater Binghamton Airport in the Town of Maine and the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport.

Aviation Commissioner Carl Beardsley said he's hopeful the situation will be resolved before the Binghamton airport's tower would have to close.

"Ideally, we would like to keep the FAA employees that are here today continue operating the air traffic control tower," Beardsley said.

A final list from the FAA is expected on March 18. 

Beardsley said Binghamton's tower closure would be closer to the bottom than the top.  That's because the airport's air-traffic controllers are staffed by the FAA, and their contracts are difficult to close.

"The first would be a "contract tower" where a company the FAA has certified would come and operate the tower and it would be completely business as usual," said Beardsley.

Beardsley said if the FAA did close the Binghamton tower, it wouldn't happen until the end of September.

"That gives time and also gives our federal officials an opportunity to come up with a solution for sequestration," he said.

Even if Congress doesn't act, the airport could hire private certified help to staff the tower or the operations could be transferred to a regional air-traffic control tower.

Among more immediate concerns are the furloughing the vast majority of the FAA's nearly 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period until September.

"The impact of that," Beardsley said, "Could be less efficiency where it takes a little bit longer to get through security, it takes a little bit longer for air traffic control to clear you because they have less employees."

The FAA also proposed eliminating midnight shifts in more than 60 towers across the country and reduce preventive maintenance and equipment provisioning and support for all NAS equipment.

The FAA says furloughs and facility shut-downs will start in April.

Towers that could potentially lose the midnight shift include Syracuse, Rochester and Albany.

Beardsley said any shut down of a tower does not mean a shut down of the airport.  He is confident the Greater Binghamton Airport would remain open no matter what happens with its air-traffic control tower.

"With the release of that list," he said, "Sometimes people feel the entire airport is going to close, and that's not the case at all."