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"Congress' airport worker furlough vote may not avert small tower cuts"



Saturday, April 27, 2013

Congress' airport worker furlough vote may not save three towers in region
FAA may use funds from AIP account for controllers 
By KRISTINE GILL 
The Naples (FL) Daily News

 
NAPLES - Congressional votes to end furloughs for airport workers likely
will lessen wait times at Southwest Florida International Airport, but the
fate of tower control programs at three regional airports here remains
uncertain, officials said Friday.

"Nothing is for sure," said  Ted Soliday, executive director of the Naples
Municipal Airport.

The bill, which passed the Senate late Thursday and the House on Friday,
gives airports more flexibility to deal with $600 million in budget cuts
announced by the Federal Aviation Administration after the recent
sequestration.

The money could be used by the FAA to continue paying for federal air
traffic controllers at 149 of the nation's smaller airports, which were
scheduled to lose funding June 15, but that language isn't clear, local
officials said Friday.

"We're happy they stopped the furloughs. That's a significant thing because
transportation is important to the community," Soliday said. "But we're
still pressing on with our legal options and all the options."

Both Naples Municipal Airport and the Punta Gorda Airport joined dozens of
other airports across the country in filing lawsuits against the FAA in
March, hoping to reverse the agency's decision to stop paying for operation
of their towers. In response to the barrage of litigation, the FAA postponed
its budget cuts for smaller airport towers to June 15.

Soliday said that until he hears that his tower is paid for, he plans to
continue with the lawsuit.

James Parish, assistant director of the Charlotte County Port Authority,
which also filed for a stay of the FAA's decision, said his airport also
will continue with its lawsuit.

"Nothing is going to change until we know for sure what they're going to
do," Parish said.

The third affected regional airport is Page Field, south of Fort Myers,
which is operated by the same agency that oversees Southwest Florida
International Airport.

Bob Ball, executive director of the Lee County Port Authority, said the bill
is good news for passengers at Southwest Florida International Airport, at
least through the summer.

"This is only a stopgap measure because it only goes on until Sept. 30,
which is right around the corner," Ball said. "The issue of funding in the
next fiscal year still needs to be addressed."

Ball said delays at the Fort Myers airport this week weren't as bad as some
experienced by passengers at major metro hubs. He's not sure how soon the
FAA will return its staff to full time after the bill is signed into law by
President Barack Obama.

Ball said he's disappointed the bill doesn't expressly address how air
traffic control towers will be paid for, but that it's a good start.

"It's a step in the right direction for the weekend," he said. "We'll get
back in it Monday."

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