March 6, 2013

Federal Sequester Could Mean Layoffs, Delays For Ithaca Airport

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The economic effects of the sequester — across-the-board budget cuts put into place after a battle in Congress to balance the federal budget — could force the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport to lay off workers and cope with increased flight delays.

The Ithaca airport is on a list of 173 small airports nationwide whose control towers are due to close April 7 as a result of the sequester, according to airport manager Robert Nicholas.

Barring the federal government coming to a new agreement, Ithaca’s air traffic control will be taken over by Elmira’s control tower, said Tony Rudy, assistant airport manager.

Although Elmira has the ability to do so, the change could increase flight delays in Ithaca, Rudy said.

“In the busier areas of the country, they might have to separate the planes [going to Ithaca] and give them a little more distance,” he said. “This could create a small ripple effect for delays, but it’s hard to predict right now.”

The changes would also require the airport to lay off the approximately five people working in its control tower, Nicholas said.

In a letter sent to the Ithaca community, Nicholas said that “the changes will not happen right away, and it will not threaten air service or safety in the future. The function of our air traffic control will simply transfer to an FAA facility in the region.”

The changes would also require the airport to lay off the approximately five people working in its control tower, Nicholas said.

In a letter sent to the Ithaca community, Nicholas said that “the changes will not happen right away, and it will not threaten air service or safety in the future. The function of our air traffic control will simply transfer to an FAA facility in the region.”

Nicholas emphasized that the changes would have a fairly limited impact on the airport.

“It is business as usual at the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport,” he wrote in an email. “There is no reason for travelers who fly into or out of our airport to be alarmed or feel threatened. Nothing has changed in our day-to-day operations.”

The federal government is currently operating under the Continuing Appropriations Resolution, which will provide funding to the airport through March 27. During this time, Congress has the opportunity to reprogram cuts from sequestration, according to USA Today.

Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport’s control tower is one of the approximately 230 airport control towers in the country whose closure is under consideration, according to Rudy. If nothing has changed by April 1, he said, the Ithaca tower will cease to operate.

The airlines that service the Ithaca airport are still planning to fly to the airport, according to their schedules. But the ways in which the sequester may affect this remain “kind of up in the air, and it’s hard for us. We’re anticipating the worst,” Rudy said.

“I’m hoping this gets resolved, because sequestration is becoming a major problem in many different ways,” Nicholas said. “I’m hoping Congress will realize they need to do something about this mess.”

Although the sequester will likely affect the Ithaca airport, it is unclear to what extent the City of Ithaca’s budget will be affected. According to City Controller Steve Thayer, in 2013, the city budgeted only $15,000 in federal aid in its operating funds, though it does expect $4,500,000 in federal aid for its Commons redesign project.

Thayer said that it’s possible that some state programs may be affected by the sequester, which could translate to lower state grant funds during 2013. But at this point, the city has not heard of any changes, Thayer said.

“I don’t have much information on the federal sequester’s impact for the city at this point. We are waiting to see where it may impact us,” Thayer said in an email. “We don’t receive much in federal operating funds. Many years ago, the City received much more federal aid in the operating funds than we do now.”

Original Author: Sarah Cutler

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