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Tower at Arnold Palmer Regional airport gets closing date

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Arnold Palmer Regional Airport's air traffic control tower is scheduled to close on April 7 unless Congress and President Obama can reach a budget deal, a closing that will trim $21,000 a year off the federal government's trillion dollar debt.

Gabe Monzo, Westmoreland County Airport Authority's executive director, said Friday he was informed by the Federal Aviation Administration of the planned closing date of the control tower because of sequestration of federal funds.

“I'm hoping that they will get something done” to avert a closing, Monzo said.

In the event the tower is closed, planes landing at the airport near Latrobe will receive air traffic control services from the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport, and from the Cleveland airport when the Johnstown control tower closes, Monzo said.

Spirit Airlines, the lone airline that serves the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, said last month it plans to operate a normal schedule if the tower closes. Spirit, which serves Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., from the Unity airport, will “wait to see the full impact” of any spending cuts that may close air traffic control towers. Spirit already is authorized to operate at the airport when the control tower is closed, the Miramar, Fla.-based airline said in a statement.

The closing of the tower, which is operated by Midwest Traffic Control Service Inc. of Overland, Kan., would affect five employees, Monzo has said. The tower operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but planes land at the airport when the tower is closed, airport officials have said.

Bill Ellis, vice president of aviation services for Midwest Traffic Control, said the FAA has not told the company when the control towers will be closed.

“There's been a lot of press (coverage), but we can't go on anything,” Ellis said.

The FAA said last month it plans to close control towers at about 100 airports as part of the agency's initiative to cut costs by about $600 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, the FAA said.

The airport authority said its air traffic control tower cost $46,100 to operate in 2012, including $25,100 for tower expenses and utilities. The FAA contributes $21,000 toward operating costs.

The Arnold Palmer Regional Airport falls within the FAA's parameters to close towers that handled fewer than 150,000 total flights and less than 10,000 commercial flights during the 2012 fiscal year, which ran from Oct. 1, 2011, to Sept. 30, 2012. The airport had only 30,000 total aircraft operations for the past fiscal year, according to airport authority statistics.

The airport is one of six in Pennsylvania that will have its tower closed as a result of the FAA budget cuts. The Capital City Airport across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg also is in danger of losing its local air traffic control services.

About 20,000 of the 20,500 airports across the United States operate without a control tower, the FAA said.

The FAA would keep a tower open at airports with fewer than 150,000 total flights, if there was a “negative impact on the national interest.”

“The FAA is unable to consider local community impact that does not affect the national interest,” the agency stated in a March 5 letter.

The FAA did not say if the towers scheduled for closing would reopen if a budget deal is reached, but stated that continued annual budgetary pressures may require further reductions.

Ellis said the FAA has not offered any guidance on the length of the tower closure.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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