By Chuck Crumbo
Published Feb. 25, 2013
The Federal Aviation Administration could eliminate overnight staffing of airport control towers at Columbia and Charleston and shut down towers at three other S.C. airports to absorb budgets cuts forced by sequestration.
Dan Mann, executive director of Columbia airport
The action would be necessary so that FAA can trim about $600 million from its budget for the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The FAA expects to implement the plan April 1 if Congress and the White House don’t find a way to postpone deep, automatic budget cuts scheduled to take effect Friday.
Eliminating the overnight shift at the local control tower shouldn’t impact operations, said Dan Mann, executive director of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Procedures and policies are in place that would allow the airport to continue to operate if no one is in the tower, Mann added.
“We would still function 24/7,” Mann said. “It’s just different procedures that would be implemented primarily by the FAA.”
One budget cut that could impact travelers is the Transportation Security Administration’s plans to reduce its frontline workforce. The White House said the agency would need to initiate a hiring freeze, eliminate overtime and furlough its 50,000 officers for up to seven days for the remainder of the fiscal year.
That could lead to longer waits for passengers in maneuvering through security checkpoints at airports, the White House said.
“The answer to that is to show up at the airport early,” Mann said.
Airlines wouldn’t have to change their schedules if the tower is not staffed, Mann said.
Columbia also is home to UPS’s Southeast hub, which averages 10 flights daily and a robust FedEx air freight operation.
The FAA said that it could eliminate the overnight shift at 60 of its towers in the United States.
Not having a tower airport or having the tower staffed around the clock is fairly common.
According to the FAA, only 500 of more than 20,000 airports in the United States have control towers.
The FAA said a regional operations center at Hilliard, Fla., near Jacksonville, would handle communications with pilots landing or taking off from Columbia and Charleston International Airport if the local towers are not staffed overnight.
Towers at Hilton Head, Florence and Donaldson Center are among 100 air traffic control facilities that the FAA said it might have to close if sequestration goes through.
The FAA said it may have to furlough the vast majority of its 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period.
“All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions,” the agency said. “We will begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April.”