A stop-gap effort to keep air-traffic control operations going at small airports in Idaho and across the nation could once again run out of funding, and airport managers are sounding the alarm.
When the so-called sequestration kicked in last spring, pulling $486 million from the Federal Aviation Administration, Congress stepped in to move approximately $250 million from unspent funds to the FAA to keep traffic control towers open. The move enabled operations to continue at 149 airports, including Hailey's Friedman Memorial Airport, Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport, Idaho Falls Regional Airport and the Pocatello Airport.
But the short-term fix runs out on Monday, Sept. 30 and this morning's Lewiston Tribune reports that officials at the Lewiston airport are urging stakeholders to contact their congressional representatives to help fix the looming problem.
"It's not clear at this point if those measures will be enacted into law by Oct. 1," wrote Robin Turn, Lewiston's airport manager. "North Central Idaho, southeastern Washington and northeastern Oregon should be concerned that the U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA may target air traffic control towers for closure once again in the absence of certainty within the budget process."
Of the nation's 5,000 public airports, only about 10 percent have regularly manned control towers. And 200 of the small- to medium-sized airports have towers operated by private contractors at an annual cost of more than $500,000 each.