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Airport tower closing could come soon

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The control tower at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe may close as early as April 7 because of a cutback in federal funds that will shutter 149 control towers at regional airports throughout the nation, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority and Spirit Airlines, the airport's lone scheduled airline, had previously announced that the airport would remain open if the control tower closes.

Gabe Monzo, executive director of the airport authority, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Misty Pinson, a spokeswoman for Spirit Airlines, which offers flights from the airport in Unity to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., could not be reached for comment.

The control towers being closed are operated under federal contracts. At Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, Midwest Air Traffic Control of Overland, Kan., has five employees operating the tower. Midwest has not been told when the local control tower will close, said Bill Ellis, vice president of aviation services for Midwest, which operates 86 towers. The contractors operating the control towers are scheduled to have a conference call with the FAA on Monday, when they hope to learn the schedule for closing the control towers, Ellis said.

The agency in March had proposed closing 189 air traffic control towers operated under federal contracts as part of the FAA's plan to cut $637 million required under budget sequestration. Based on the airport authority's budget, it costs the federal government $21,000 to operate the tower in Unity.

In order to remain open, the airport would have needed 150,000 flights in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, but it had only 30,000. The tower could have remained open if it were deemed to be in the nation's best interest, such as having an adverse impact on multistate transportation, communication or banking.

Monzo said previously that 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 in the evenings.

The FAA said it will work with the airports and the operators to ensure the procedures are in place to maintain the high level of safety at non-towered airports.

Only 500 of the nation's 20,500 airports have control towers, the agency said.

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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