April 1, 2013

Ithaca Airport May Lose Funding After Sequester

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As a result of the federal sequester, the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport may face budget cuts that would force it to remove the technology it uses to guide planes when they are landing, airport officials say.

Unless Tompkins County steps in to provide funding to the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration will remove the airport’s instrument landing system, according to David St. George, chief instructor at the Ithaca airport’s East Hill Flying Club.

The airport has already been told it will have to close its control tower — which directs planes as to when to take off and land — due to the sequester, a series of across-the-board federal budget cuts.

Five airports have filed lawsuits in response to the FAA’s closure of their towers. Ithaca is considering filing a lawsuit or a supporting motion of another suit, Nicholas said, adding that the towers the FAA is closing are primarily at airports that can least afford to spend money on a lawsuit.

St. George has been “pushing” for Ithaca to file a lawsuit, he said.

“I’ve been saying, ‘you’ve got to do this,’ but [officials] don’t want to scare people away from the airport,” St. George said. “They’re cautious about being alarmist, so consequently they’ve done nothing.”

In response to the loss of funding, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said he wants to restore some of the funding to the airport, adding that the airport should not incur further cuts, according to The Ithaca Journal.

“Obviously, there is a need and a demand for the Ithaca airport that I recognize,” Reed said.

Still, both airport manager Robert Nicholas and St. George emphasized that despite the tower’s closure, passengers’ safety will not be at risk.

“There’s no reason people can’t continue to use this airport. People are as safe flying here as they are anywhere else,” Nicholas said. “It’s just a matter of perception,” since only 450 of the country’s nearly 5,000 airports had control towers before the sequester.

Potential delays due to the tower’s closure, however, may deter some students from using the Ithaca airport.

Wyatt Nelson ’16, who flies home to Nebraska for winter, spring and summer breaks, said he probably wouldn’t fly out of the Ithaca airport because of the change.

“If there’s a possibility of delays, you miss your connection,” he said. “I’m going to textmy mom right now and ask for a ticket out of [the Syracuse airport].”

St. George said he doubts the tower will reopen once it closes and said he believes will likely hurt Ithaca in the long run.

“We desperately need this kind of air service if we’re going to continue to be vigorous and viable as an international community,” he said.

The airport’s control tower will join 149 towers closing nationwide as a result of the sequester. Towers will begin to close April 7, with staggered closure times for each of the affected airports.

Despite the change, the airport will remain open, with the tower at the Elmira Corning Regional Airport controlling arriving and departing flights. Without a tower staff, however, planes will have to line up themselves on the runway once they are between four and five miles away from the Ithaca airport, according to Nicholas.

The change will likely cause delays, Nicholas said, who noted that having pilots decide landing order among themselves “won’t be as efficient as having one person tell pilots what to do.”

Original Author: Sarah Cutler