Authority calls for group to find alternative funding for tower

300-Ed-WuellnerIn an article reported by the Jacksonville Business Journal today, the Northeast Florida Regional Airport at St Augustine is making plans in the event that the Federal Aviation Administration goes through with planned tower closures June 15.

The FAA has said it will eliminate funding for 149 contract towers nationwide due to budget cuts under sequestration, including the local tower.

Ed Wuellner, executive director and airport manager, told reporters, “Right now, pretty much everything is on the table.”

At a board meeting yesterday, members of the Airport Authority reached a consensus that they want to maintain the control tower themselves, if necessary. Whether by increasing fuel fees and other charges to pilots or otherwise, the Authority has directed staff to form a “users group” made up of local pilots and other stakeholders, to find an alternative way to fund the tower.

Nationally, several airports have sued the FAA over the closings; originally scheduled to begin April 7.

“It’s fairly costly and we want to make sure we’d be in a position to pay for it indefinitely,” Wuellner said. “There’s a strong feeling that the cost of air traffic control services needs to be shared beyond the local pilots, because the airport gets a large amount of transient use.”

Estimates are not firm, but Wuellner guessed the cost to operate the tower would be $450,000 to $500,000 per year if the airport hired its own employees and $650,000 to $700,000 per year if the service is contracted.

Wuellner said if the tower closed, the impact would be huge. The airport controllers typically handle 500 takeoffs and landings per day and that escalates to as high as 900 per day during events like the TPC Sawgrass golf tournament.

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