Deadline for control tower nears |

Deadline for control tower nears

Michael Schneider

A March 1 federal government deadline for funding the Lake Tahoe Airport’s air traffic control tower is weeks away and city officials are resigned to the fact that federal funding will be lost.

With a private airline industry marketer hired by the city a distant and unsuccessful memory, and the control tower funding deadline looming, the prospects for the airport indeed look dim.

“We kind of used up all our chips last year,” City Manager Kerry Miller said. “We made contact with some political friends and they don’t see how we can make another run at it.”

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Western-Pacific spokesperson agreed with Miller.

“The situation does not look good,” said spokesperson William Shumann. “That (tower funding) all ends at the end of February.”

Because air traffic at the airport was rated below the control tower threshold in a FAA cost-benefit analysis conducted in 1997, the administration decided last year to pull the plug on federal funding for the tower.

After a battle between the FAA and various politicians from Nevada and California, the FAA finally agreed to reduce the funding about $25,000 and extend it one year.

Politicians, including all four California and Nevada senators, argued the tower was needed due to the mountainous terrain and changeable weather in and around South Shore.

When asked if there was any flavor from the city to again lobby for an administration extension, Miller said “no.”

Miller said this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the control tower. The city may find a way to fund the tower in some capacity. Last year, the city contributed about $25,000 to the tower while the FAA put in about $100,000. This total was reduced from about $180,000 the previous year and meant fewer hours with controllers in the tower.

“We’d have to reduce the funding and the hours further, but, at this point, I don’t know how we would fund it,” Miller said, saying tapping the city’s general fund is not a consideration.

Without a control tower, Shumann said the FAA will not leave the airport and its air traffic hanging in the wind.

Shumann said an Automated Surface Observation System, a device that measures weather conditions, will be operational at the Lake Tahoe Airport before March 1.

When pilots are flying into the airport, they can check with either the administration’s Oakland Center or Reno Flight Service Station, which are linked to the ASOS, to get weather readings for Tahoe.

Shumann said that if the Lake Tahoe Airport were to attract a commercial airline, the FAA would consider reinstating funding for the tower in the future.

The city pushed hard for an airline last year, hiring Vesta Rea & Associates, of Houston, and meeting with several airlines. An offer reportedly was made by America West, but that offer required a monetary subsidy from the city should the airline not be able to sell seats.

Miller said city officials have future meetings planned with potential commercial service providers, but no commitments at this point.

Mindy Johnke, general aviation marketing director for Oasis Aviation, Inc., said the airport in Jackson Hole, Wyo. has no control tower and lands large jets. But city officials here admit the potential loss of the tower will hurt commercial service efforts. Johnke said the loss of the tower would also hurt Oasis’ business.

The annual cost for funding the air traffic controllers at the present level of service is about $120,000.

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