Coastal Carolina Regional Airport’s is expected to lose its four air traffic control tower workers as cuts from sequestration take effect.
However, Airport Director Tom Braaten said passengers won’t notice any changes.
“The passenger should see no change,” Braaten said. “They don’t talk on the radio. I don’t know yet what other cuts the FAA will make within their big system but from our perspective, it should not slow them down at all.”
Braaten said he received word late Tuesday that the New Bern airport would be one of 189 Federal Aviation Administration contract towers that could lose funding. He said no date was given, and the airport could appeal the decision.
“But we would have to show that closing it would adversely affect the national interest and I don’t know if we can do that,” said Braaten, a former Cherry Point commanding general.
The FAA targeted the contract towers at airports with fewer than 10,000 takeoffs and landings. Coastal Carolina Regional Airport had about 8,300 last year.
Braaten said the earliest date of closure would be April 7 because the airport would be required to notify Robinson Aviation, which has the contract for air traffic control at the airport.
Braaten said four air traffic controllers, generally retired FAA or military controllers, staff the New Bern tower. He said he is sorry for the potential job loss for tower controllers who he said have been an integral part of Coastal Carolina Regional Airport’s team, even riding in parade floats and participating in civic support functions, but air traffic into the area will continue.
“Airports have been operating without individual towers for years,” Braaten said. “The FAA assigns them to higher air traffic centers and they operate through them at 50 percent of airports in the country.”
Jacksonville and Greenville airports already operate without individual towers.
“When (then-President) Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981, New Bern operated without a tower until 1991,” he said. “We had commercial traffic then. We’ve been very blessed that we had a tower. They’re an extra set of eyes up high.”
Braaten said a meeting would be set up with pilots to discuss procedures for landings and takeoffs at the airport, which would involve a common radio frequency so pilots can communicate with each other.
Cherry Point air traffic control oversees airspace in the region. A statement issued by the base said workload is not expected to increase for its tower workers as a result of any potential cuts at area airports, and that its controllers don’t provide the same service as the controllers at the New Bern airport.
Braaten said the bigger impact from sequestration on the airport could be a drop in passengers, some of whom work at Cherry Point and could see less money in their paychecks and decide not to travel.
“I’m more concerned about the Department of Defense furloughs,” he said.