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East Texas Regional Airport air traffic control tower could be spared

By by Peggy Jones
March 6, 2013 at 11 p.m.

The air traffic control tower at East Texas Regional Airport is in the clear for now, but Tyler Pounds Airport officials received a letter Wednesday giving operators until March 13 to tell FAA officials why closing the airport's tower would have a negative national impact.

Tyler Pounds was one of 168 small-to medium-sized airports to receive a similar letter this week.

FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford said the federal agency could not consider local community impact in whether to keep a facility open - only the national interest.

"The airport received notification from FAA of the possibility to close the air traffic control tower at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport," Tyler Pounds Manager Davis Dickson said Wednesday. "However, there are a number of circumstances that surround this decision before it can be finalized. The airport will be reviewing these matters and working with FAA before any decision for closure may commence."

Manager Roy Miller said East Texas Regional Airport did not receive such a letter.

East Texas Regional Airport terminal radar has approach control for Tyler Pounds, and it is an FAA-operated facility.

Air traffic control at Tyler Pounds is a contracted service to Robinson Aviation RVA. Most of the air traffic control towers targeted for closure were contracted services.

Wes Cozart, CEO of Robinson Aviation, said his company, which is based in Oklahoma City, operates 96 air traffic control towers.

"Seventy-seven are on the list," Cozart said. "We were somewhat surprised they hit us this hard. We figured sequestration would hit us, but we did not anticipate this level of closure."

Cozart estimates the shutdowns would affect about 400 people in his company and predicts the future closure of small-to medium-sized FAA-operated towers, such as East Texas Regional, should sequestration continue.

"There are a bunch of FAA towers on that list as well," he said. "They can't close them because they still have to negotiate with the union."

But for the immediate future, Miller said, it appeared the Longview facility has been spared.

"We are very pleased. We hope our tower will be open and continue to serve the citizens of Gregg County," Miller said.

Miller said the air traffic control towers with contracted services were most likely to be shuttered followed by FAA-operated facilities without radar.

Miller said FAA-operated towers with radar - such as East Texas Regional - were least likely of the small-to medium-sized air traffic control towers to be closed.

The FAA will finalize its list by March 18, Lunsford said, and funding would cease April 7 for the vast majority of the sites.

It will close another 16 towers Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

And while officials insisted air traffic in and around the airports operating without towers would be safe, Cozart bristled.

"The towers are put in place for safety and efficiency. There will be a degradation of safety," he said.

FAA officials said they would consider keeping non-federal towers open at local airports' expense.



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