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JC airport control tower to stay open

JC airport control tower to stay open

Columbia's tower still faces closure

March 22nd, 2013 in News

Jefferson City Memorial Airport's traffic controllers will stay on the job at least through September, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday.

But Columbia Regional Airport's controllers will lose their federal funding between April 7 and May 7, because of the federal government's budget sequestration.

"We're very grateful that our tower will remain open for sure through the end of September," Britt Smith, the city Public Works Department's Operations director, said Friday afternoon. "Just like anything else in the government, it has to be reappropriated in the next year's budget. We're funded through the end of this current budget year."

When the FAA first notified communities across the nation that their towers might be closed, they said communities had to show the agency their airport served some "national interest" in order to be considered for continued funding.

Last week, Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph submitted a letter, along with a supporting letter from U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, explaining that the airport's national interests included being "the capital city of Missouri, making the airport the most efficient method of transportation for the governor, legislators and other state leaders."

Struemph also noted the airport's regular use by "four National Guard units" and by "the State Emergency Management Agency and the Missouri Highway Patrol ... for assignments that involve coordination with federal agencies ... certainly impacts the national interest."

But ultimately, Smith said, the FAA's decision was based on the way Congress wrote this year's spending plans - because the Jefferson City tower is a contracted "cost-share" tower, where the federal government pays about 82 percent of the costs, and Jefferson City pays 18 percent.

"Since there was an appropriation, that had been approved by Congress, to fund our tower as well as the other 15 cost-share contract towers, the funding was secured," Smith explained. "The appropriations for the cost-share was different than the other contract towers, because they're funded by the FAA at 100 percent.

"Columbia doesn't pay anything with local funds."

Luetkemeyer was pleased with the Jefferson City decision, spokesman Paul Sloca said.

"Obviously, Blaine understood the importance of having the airport open with not only the National Guard presence, but also this being a capital city," Sloca said. "I think this is a great victory.

"I think a lot of people worked hard together, to make this happen, and now we can go forward."

U.S. Rep. Vicki Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, wasn't happy with the decision to stop paying for traffic controllers at the Columbia tower.

"This decision is disappointing not only because it presents a safety concern, but it is unwise from a budget perspective as Columbia's tower is part of the Contract Tower Program that is cost-effective for taxpayers," she said.

"There is plenty of waste that can be trimmed by administrators implementing the budget sequester and there is absolutely no need to put Columbia workers on unemployment because of the Obama administration's poor choices on where to cut."

The FAA's decision also keeps contract towers open in Joplin and St. Joseph, but closes the tower in Branson.

Like Hartzler, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he's "very troubled" by the decision to close some towers.

"These towers were operational in 2009 when the FAA received less funding than they will under the sequestration - further proving these closures are irresponsible and unnecessary," Blunt said. "Federal spending has skyrocketed 19 percent since 2008.

"There's no reason the Obama administration shouldn't be able to figure out a 2.5 percent spending cut without interrupting Americans' lives and air travel to communities like Branson and Columbia."

And U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill said: "I'm working hard to make sure these closures don't result in any disruption to passenger flights. I've been assured that's the case in the vast majority of closures, and I'll continue to closely monitor the situation in Missouri."

First coverage, posted at 1:53 p.m. Friday:

The FAA announced Friday that the Jefferson City Airport control tower will remain open.

The tower at the Columbia Regional Airport will close.

This comes after the FAA's director, Michael Huerta, earlier this month, said Jefferson City officials would have to convince the administration that it was in "national interest" to keep the tower open.

Jefferson City Mayor Eric Struemph told Huerta, in a March 12 letter, that the airport's operations do include the national interest.