Napa control tower staff likely spared from cuts

2013-04-29T16:54:00Z Napa control tower staff likely spared from cutsPETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
April 29, 2013 4:54 pm  • 

Employees of the Napa County Airport’s control tower may get a repreive from the mandatory federal budget cuts being implemented through sequestration.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign a bill Tuesday that will end the mandatory furlough program for Federal Aviation Administration employees. The Napa County Airport is staffed with a dozen FAA employees.

The employees had received furlough notices in March, but the FAA is expected to be able to cancel the furlough program once Congress passes the bill and the president signs it. That would enable the agency to shuffle funding to keep control towers staffed, according to the Associated Press.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate last week, but contained a typo that requires the Senate to correct the mistake Tuesday, according to the AP.

In a statement Saturday, the FAA said this will end the furlough program, which was receiving widespread blame for hours-long delays among air travelers since the program took effect about a week ago.

“The FAA has suspended all employee furloughs,” the statement read. “Air traffic facilities will begin to return to regular staffing levels over the next 24 hours and the system will resume normal operations by Sunday evening.”

The AP reported that the funding could also be restored for smaller airport control towers that were targeted for closure, but the FAA couldn’t confirm that Monday. It was unclear if Napa’s would be spared from the budget ax.

In the runup to sequestration taking effect March 1, the FAA identified Napa’s air tower on a list of hundreds of smaller towers that could be closed due to the budget cuts.

The FAA later identified 149 such towers to be closed, which were being operated on a contract basis. That didn’t affect the Napa tower, which the FAA operates.

FAA union contracts require a year’s notice before closing an FAA-operated tower, meaning Napa couldn’t be closed until 2014 if notice was given this year.

The tower coordinates air traffic for much of the approximately 60,000 flights in and out of the Napa County Airport annually, but its hours of operation start at 7 a.m. and last until 8 p.m.

It becomes an unmanned airport at night, meaning pilots have to communicate with other pilots in coordinating their takeoffs and landings. That would become the standard practice if the air traffic control tower closed permanently.

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