City plans to fund tower
City Manager Kerry Miller said a teleconference Tuesday between the city and Federal Aviation Administration representatives quelled any fears the city may have had about air traffic control tower funding.
Miller said FAA representatives told him it was “appropriate and proper” for the city to enter the proposed contract with Barton ATC International, a private air traffic control company.
The council approved $24,000 of city funds to pad the FAA contribution of $114,000 through February 1999. The joint funds will allow the Lake Tahoe Airport’s air traffic control tower to remain open 12 hours per day until that next deadline.
Miller said the city is yet to receive a promised letter from the FAA confirming the agreement. The council motion was made contingent upon receipt and execution of the ($114,000) payment.
“We won’t sign until we have satisfactory reimbursement,” Mayor Hal Cole said. “From the FAA,” added Councilmember Tom Davis.
The agreement also allows for an FAA reevaluation of federal tower funding should the airport be successful in its push for commercial service and boost its FAA cost/benefit ratio.
In an October 1997 analysis cost ratios to economic benefits, the airport rated “.01” with a “1” being the minimum score for federal tower funding.
All four U.S. senators from California and Nevada, along with three federal congressmen wrote to the FAA and Department of Transportation urging them to consider safety issues rather than money in making the decision.
The FAA first granted a one-month extension for the March 1 deadline for tower funding. The administration then committed to funding surface weather observations for a year and told city officials they could contribute relatively nominal funds to keep near the current levels of service at the tower.
The tower will lose about $60,000 this year in funding so the air traffic control staff will be cut from four to three people.
Airport Assistant Manager Janis Brand said this will mean longer hours and less vacations, but she said the tower will still function 12 hours per day seven day a week.
The FAA had staffed the tower with federal controllers until all commercial passenger service was lost two years ago.
The city convinced the FAA to switch to private controllers, saving the government about $200,000, in lieu of discontinuing the tower completely.
When the results of the cost/benefit analysis were learned last fall, the FAA again tried to stop funding for the tower, but granted a one-year reprieve for the tower likely due to the congressional pressure.
Currently, Tahoe Air Corporation, a start-up airline, plans to serve the Lake Tahoe Airport with commercial flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The airline still must complete the FAA’s certification process before it can be licensed to carry commercial passengers.
Also, the city has hired a marketing firm which specializes in bringing commercial airlines to airports. The firm’s president, Vesta Rea-Gaubert, is scheduled to be in Tahoe next month to report on any progress.
The city currently has no agreement with the FAA beyond next February.
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