FAA threatens to pull air traffic control tower funding | TahoeDailyTribune.com

FAA threatens to pull air traffic control tower funding

The Federal Aviation Administration is cutting funding to the Lake Tahoe Airport tower Oct. 31.

“We all have a very big concern to maximize safety at the airport,” said City Manager David Childs.

Instead of paying for a person to observe the weather, the FAA plans on installing an Aviation Weather Surveillance System.

The system has been approved by the U.S. Air Force operational testing and evaluation center.

But for Lake Tahoe, the impact could cost the airport more than a weatherman. It could cost the airport air traffic controllers.

“It’s less expensive,” said Jerry Snyder, public affairs officer for the FAA Western Pacific Region.

In 1998 the FAA cut funding for Lake Tahoe’s air traffic controllers, because the airport failed to meet minimum air traffic requirements. During a six-month FAA absence, the state picked up the tab, said Lake Tahoe Airport Manager Rick Jenkins. FAA then agreed to pay $7,000 a month to provide weather observers.

The city contributed an additional $2,000 a month to upgrade the weather observers to air traffic controllers.

City officials said they are not satisfied with the FAA’s decision to use a computerized weather system.

“I am not in favor of it in any, way shape or form,” said Mayor Tom Davis. “We need a human being up there.”

Without FAA funding, the city would need to put up an additional $84,000 a year to keep air traffic controllers in the tower.

However, Childs has indicated that the city will do everything it can to hold on to the controllers.

“We’re going to do what we have to do,” he said.

But beyond the city’s concerns, Allegiant Air, the only commercial airline in Lake Tahoe, has its own reservations.

“We are very concerned about operating into an airport where there is no tower,” said Allegiant Air President Jim Patterson, adding that the airline is not ready take any action.

“We have not made a decision, but it is perfectly legal to operate without a person in the tower,” he said.

Davis, who has lobbied for the airport before, will go to Washington D.C. next week with Jenkins to meet with Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey to discuss the funding issue, Childs said.

“If I’ve got to fly back to Washington D.C., I will do that,” Davis said.

According to Childs, plans to have U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, State Sen. Tim Leslie and U.S. Congressman John Doolittle present at these meetings are in the works.

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