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Palmer airport tower could be targeted for closure

Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - The air traffic control tower (right) at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Feb. 22, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>The air traffic control tower (right) at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Feb. 22, 2013.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review - The air traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Feb. 22, 2013.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>  Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review</em></div>The air traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity on Feb. 22, 2013.

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By Joe Napsha and Tom Fontaine
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
 

Unless the White House and Congress reach a budget deal before March 1, the air traffic control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport will close as part of an effort to cut Federal Aviation Administration costs by $600 million, officials said on Friday.

If the Unity airport's tower is shuttered, flights would be handled by air-traffic controllers at Pittsburgh International Airport, FAA officials said.

Five Arnold Palmer controllers would lose their jobs as a result of the move, said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. They are employees of Midwest Air Traffic Control of Overland, Kan., a federal contractor.

Monzo said he's uncertain how the closing otherwise might affect operations.

“It's a situation where there's not a whole lot we can do. We'll deal with it accordingly,” Monzo said about the closing that would take effect April 1.

The airport has 100 flights a day, including scheduled service by Spirit Airlines, corporate flights and charter flights, Monzo said.

A spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, which serves Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Fla., from Arnold Palmer Regional, could not be reached for comment.

The FAA announcement comes as federal agencies are planning $85 billion in spending cuts over the next seven months in what is being called the sequester, part of $1.2 trillion in across-the-board reductions scheduled to occur over the next decade unless Congress and President Obama can strike a deal that would stop the reductions.

Closing the Unity tower would not hurt the charter flight business operated by L.J. Aviation Inc. at the airport, said Ed Kilkeary Sr., president and CEO.

“The tower is certainly a great asset, and it (closing) will be an inconvenience,” Kilkeary said.

He said his company is used to operating with an empty tower — it flies around the clock, but the tower is unmanned after 10 p.m., Kilkeary said.

Westmoreland Aviation, which operates a flight training school at the airport, does not expect any disruption in services if the tower closes, said President David Castaldo.

Flying into and out of Arnold Palmer Regional Airport without a control tower will be similar to flying into smaller airports in Rostraver or Indiana, Castaldo said.

Nationwide, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the sequester would force the FAA to close more than 100 control towers, eliminate overnight shifts at 60 others and furlough its 47,000 employees for at least one day per pay period through September.

The FAA said it also would eliminate overnight hours at Allegheny County Airport's tower in West Mifflin.

“Travelers should expect delays,” LaHood said. “Flights to major cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco could experience delays of up to 90 minutes during peak hours because we will have fewer controllers on staff.”

Joe Napsha and Tom Fontaine are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Joe Napsha can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com. Tom Fontaine can be reached at 412-320-7847or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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