Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Air service will continue if Idaho Falls Regional Airport tower closes

The tower at Idaho Falls Regional Airport is one of hundreds that could be closed in early April due to across-the-board cuts in federal spending.
Although there is growing alarm in the local aviation community that the control tower could be shut down in early April because of federal cuts to spending, planes will continue to take off and land at Idaho Falls Regional Airport, Manager Craig Davis said.

"We don't want to lose the safety the tower provides," said Davis. "But the airport is not going to shut down."

Davis said he has received word from the three commercial carriers, United Express, SkyWest and Allegiant Air, all stating they do not plan to change their service regardless of whether the tower is open or closed. Even now, 12 to 14 commercial flights a week land in Idaho Falls when the tower is closed.

Nevertheless, Davis is leading an effort to persuade the FAA and lawmakers to keep the tower open. In an e-mail to local pilots and service operators, he said, "I have been working with the airport’s lobbyist organizations (American Association of Airport Executives-AAAE and United States Contract Tower Association-USCTA), the media (local and national) and key airport tenants to communicate our objection to this decision and to urge our legislators to negotiate a plan between now and April 1 to keep the towers in operation."

"It's a balancing act," he said. "But whatever happens we want (people) to know that air service will continue and that they will be safe."

In February, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the sequestration that went into effect March 1 could require trimming $600 million this year from the Federal Aviation Administration's budget. That will mean furloughing air traffic controllers at larger airports and shutting down towers at smaller ones. Idaho Falls is on a list of airports that can be found here: http://www.faa.gov/news/updates/media/Facilities_Could_Be_Closed.pdf

Tuesday afternoon Davis said he received a letter from the FAA telling him he had until March 13 to provide justification why the Idaho Falls tower shouldn't be closed. The justification has to be at a national level. "They won't take local matters into consideration," he said.

In his e-mail, Davis urged local pilots and anyone connected with aviation to contact Rep. Mike Simpson and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, providing this link: http://afl.salsalabs.com/o/5893/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=5779

Taleesha Hillman, the air traffic manager in Idaho Falls for Serco, the company that contracts with the FAA, is also looking for e-mails and letters to pass on to Washington, D.C. In charge of a four-person staff in Idaho Falls, she said it is "unimaginable and unacceptable" that the tower be closed down. "I have been at IDA for 16 years now and have diligently tried every day to keep people in the air and on the ground safe," she said.

In 2012, 159,976 people boarded flights in Idaho Falls, up from 149,194 in 2011 and 143,194 in 2010. Three carriers -- SkyWest, United Express and Allegiant -- serve Idaho Falls with direct flights to Salt Lake City, Denver, Las Vegas, Oakland, and Los Angeles.