Airport cuts mean delays, higher fees

Pilots and passengers at smaller metro Atlanta airports will be looking at longer waits and “uncontrolled” airport environments if sweeping federal sequester cuts are handed down. Doug Barrett, manager of Fulton County’s Charlie Brown Field, explained during a conversation this week.

Q: They’re talking about closing your tower?

A: They are talking about ceasing payment to contract operators to man the tower. I have a contract company that mans the tower. Their staffing probably varies somewhat. But the issue is, obviously, the FAA is trying to save money as part of this sequestration issue. The contract tower has been put on the radar to meet the cuts.

Q: Would everyone in the tower be cut, or would you have reduced hours?

A: It's basically two shifts (from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.). That's what the FAA is looking at terminating. There's about three operators in the United States that provide staff to cover these contract towers, and it is for daytime operations.

Q: What does a cut like that do to operations at your airport?

A: It would become what they call an "uncontrolled" field. The vast majority of the 5,000 airports in this country are uncontrolled (where there is no air traffic control service). It means you can still come and go 24/7. There are just operating parameters if you are in a major airspace environment like we are (in metro Atlanta). There may be delays on getting clearance for departure, and you may be vectored around before you can actually get in to land.

Q: Does this concern Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport?

A: It does from the point of view that all of the IFR (Instrument Flight Rule) arrival-departures fall on their shoulders. So it loads them up. Every jet operating in and out of this country is operating on an IFR flight plan. Yeah, that would fall immediately on the shoulders of air traffic control Hartsfield.

Q: How do operations change if you lose a manned tower? Would it be business as usual?

A: No. I would expect some diminution of traffic based on the particular interest of any individual company that may come and go.

Q: Would that be because they feel it’s a less safe situation?

A: I don't know if it's necessarily less safe. But it may be more time delay.

Q: Any way to keep the tower open?

A: We can keep it open through funding (it) ourselves. We are approaching that very seriously. If they (the FAA) give us the go-ahead, then that is our strong intention.

Q: How would you fund it?

A: You've got to disseminate the extra cost throughout everybody who uses the airport. The primary way to do that is fuel flowage fees.

Q: How many takeoffs and landings were there at Charlie Brown Field last year?

A: About 58,000.