Transportation • Congress OKs enough money to save Ogden, Provo facilities, 147 others.
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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood officially rescinded on Friday what had been death warrants for airport towers in Ogden, Provo and 147 other cities nationally.
He issued a statement that he determined a bill passed by Congress last month to stop what had been disruptive furloughs for air traffic controllers also included enough money to save the 149 federal contract control towers through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
Those towers had been scheduled to close on June 15 part of a plan to help the Federal Aviation Administration make $637 million in across-the-board budget cuts ordered through sequestration.
Airport managers in Ogden and Provo hailed the reprieve but worried they may have to wage the same fight again later.
"I think there are airports on the chopping block," said Ogden-Hinckley Airport Manager Royal Eccles. "But I think Ogden's position is very strong" because it and Utah's congressional delegation argued strongly that its tower is needed to maintain safety with nearby Hill Air Force Base.
"Our two runways are basically lined up. And their approach flies right over the top of my runway. It is separated by 500 feet of vertical separation. Our runways are only 3.58 miles away from each other," Eccles said. "My tower controls that arrival, and guarantees a separation of military and general aviation aircraft, and maintains that safety factor for everybody."
Eccles added, "They did not have the correct information on us when they decided to close our tower."
In Provo, airport manager Steve Gleason also was happy about this year's reprieve.
"It means we're not going to have to shift around a lot of our flight school operations to accommodate our commercial service. Having a control tower up there creates safety not only for the flying public, but also the entire valley," he said.
Gleason added the tower is needed because "the market is picking up dramatically in Utah County and Provo, and we see it continuing to expand."
He said he hopes Congress can find a way to adopt a budget, and avoid automatic cost-cutting that puts the tower at risk. "Our government needs to figure out a process through which they can compromise and make the system work."