FAA Tower Cutbacks Wll Hit Ontario And SCLA

(March 29) ONTARIO—The air control towers at both Ontario Airport and Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville will be directly impacted by reductions imposed on the Federal Aviation Administration, according to federal officials.
The website for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that the control tower at Southern California Logistics Airport is one of 149 air traffic control facilities nationwide targeted for closure as the Federal Aviation Administration seeks to accommodate $637 million in reductions brought on by the federal sequestration spending cuts, which went into effect March 1.
The control tower at Ontario International is one of 72 such facilities where overnight shifts will be eliminated.
With sequestration in effect, SCLA, which is essentially run by the city of Victorville, and Ontario International, which is presently managed and operated by Los Angeles World Airports, a corporate division of the city of Los Angeles, will have to absorb the cost of maintaining their towers.  or, in the case of SCLA, shut it down, or in the case of Ontario Airport, discontinue night operations.
A press release from the FAA states, “To prepare for the possibility of a budget sequestration on March 1, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration is making plans to reduce its expenditures by approximately $600 million for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013. Among the changes we are considering are furloughing the vast majority of our 47,000 employees for approximately one day per pay period; closing over 100 air traffic control facilities; eliminating the overnight shift at over 60 facilities; and reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment. All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions. We will begin furloughs and start facility shut-downs in April.”
Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) was targeted for a tower shutdown because it averages under 150,000 total flight operations per year. The majority of flights into and out of SCLA are cargo related, although the airport also hosts corporate jets at its Million Air facility.
Eric Ray, the airport manager at Southern California Logistics Airport, this week told the Sentinel, “We are informed that the FAA will completely decommission the control tower effective May 5. At present, we are exploring the viability of operating the tower on our own at a reduced number of hours.”
Currently, Ray said, the tower is manned fourteen hours a day, and engages the services of five contract air traffic controllers. Those controllers, all of whom have FAA licenses, are employees with Serco Management Services. Serco provides those services under the terms of a $750,000 annual contract with the FAA. The continuation of the tower’s function at SCLA is critical, as controllers are needed to guide the landings of both manned and unmanned aircraft. SCLA is at the forefront of civilian airports accommodating unmanned planes.
SCLA also hosts  numerous charter flights ferrying servicemen into the High Desert. In 2012, approaching 50,000 military personnel flew into the airport, the majority of those being ones rotating into the Army National Training Center at Fort Irwin, which lacks an airstrip capable of accommodating airliners.
Ray said that last year, “We had 63,265 total flight operations, that is landings and takeoffs counted individually.”
While Southern California Logistics Airport is a separate legal entity with a budget and financial administration that is ledgered independently of the city of Victorville’s municipal operations, the Victorville City Council nonetheless serves as the SCLA Authority and oversees the airport.  “We endeavor to be economically self sufficient,” Ray said. “The FAA doing this [eliminating the control tower] is going to impair our ability to be so. We are looking at every reasonable option we have, including using the airport’s reserves. We are looking at all of our options. So far we have no solid commitments.”
At Ontario International Airport, the FAA previously gave indicaion that it would close  the control tower during the 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. shift beginning in April.Roughly 26, or 22 percent, of the 119 daily passenger flights at Ontario arrive or depart between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. More significantly, 48, or 64 percent, of the 75 average daily cargo flights at Ontario arrive and depart at night. While the FAA has floated the proposal of the graveyard shift shutdown, Ian Gregor, the public affairs manager for the FAA Pacific Division told the Sentinel, “We do not have concrete plans to end overnight shifts at any FAA towers.”
Los Angeles World Airports, which runs Ontario Airport, has  not yet put in place a plan to replace those displaced nighttime air traffic controllers in the event the FAA does eliminate them.
Nancy Castles, the director of public relations for Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) said LAWA, like the operators of nearly all of the airports being hit with the control tower hour cutbacks, has not taken up the gauntlet of replacing the air traffic controllers for several reasons. “Air traffic controllers are FAA employees who have to be trained and have FAA certification,” she said. LAWA moving to hire the displaced graveyard shift workers on its own so that they will remain in place in Ontario, “is not something I have heard,” Castles said.
She said airport operators are reluctant to do that because air traffic control has historically been the FAA’s province and legal liability attaches to the function of air traffic control. “[An airport hiring air traffic controllers] would not set a good precedent,” she said. “There are contractor liability issues. That is probably why no one is talking about it. The FAA as a governmental entity is protected. If we contracted and put people into the towers and something happened, we’d get sued.”
Castles said that it would be possible to have flights without a manned tower, but suggested those flights would most likely be cargo rather than passenger oriented.
“There are uncontrolled tower situations,” she said. “They are legal. The FAA permits that. I don’t know of any airlines with passengers going into an uncontrolled airport.  An airline’s  liability is significantly reduced when there is a control tower. If an airline chooses to land at a facility with an uncontrolled tower and there is an accident, the airline is going to take 100 percent of the blame and liability.”
The closure of the control tower at Ontario could have a major impact on United Parcel Service operations there. The UPS Southwest Regional Distribution Center is located at Ontario Airport. There have been conflicting signals sent by UPS corporate officers as to what the company’s reaction will be to the overnight tower shutdowns. A California-based company spokesman simply stated that UPS was monitoring the situation.  Statements emanating from the company headquarters in Sandy Springs, Georgia, however, made it sound as if the company is looking to relocate the southwest regional distribution center elsewhere.

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