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April 4, 2013

Texas Transportation Commission approves TxDOT funding for air traffic control services in Texas

Ensures flight operations safety and economic impact for local communities

TXAA staff

An emergency meeting was held by the TTC at 9:00 AM Thursday morning the 4th of April at their offices across from the Capitol building in Austin, Texas. Testimony was given by Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division Director David Fulton as well as most of the airport representatives affected by the projected closure of contract towers at 14 airports in Texas.

Recent Federal sequestration laws eliminate funding of 149 municipal airport air traffic controllers across the United States to begin on April 7, 2013. When automatic budget cuts from the federal government went into effect last month, Texas regional airports were caught in the cross hairs and were scheduled to lose funding for positions for air traffic control services beginning April 7. TxDOT Director Phil Wilson and others helped to draft the funding project that would keep Texas contract control towers operational for at 90 days so that a more permanent solution could be found.

“Safety is our top priority and I am glad we’re able to keep these critical air traffic control services operating,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Fred Underwood. “As a pilot, I know firsthand how critical these services are to the safety of air traffic.”

TXAA board member Jay Carpenter testified before the commission and stated, “With the Commission’s approval of these funds, not only will the economic impact of these communities continue to be ensured but air safety will also be maintained. Air traffic controllers not only provide separation between aircraft, but they are in a sense, instructors for pilots that need help. They are not certified in flight instruction but they can help the pilot who becomes disoriented or makes a procedural mistake or needs to declare an emergency. We need these trained professional controllers to maintain air safety.”

Following the testimonies, the Commission moved to approve the funding. A second was given to the motion and the Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the funding.

“This 90 day approval of funds ensures there will be no interruption is ATC service in Texas,” said TxDOT Aviation Director David Fulton. “By approving these funds, the Commission has ensured the safety of Texas airspace and the economic development of these 14 communities in Texas.”

“I applaud the commission for taking this action as it was the right thing to do for Texas,” said TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson. “The commission’s action today will allow these communities to partner with TxDOT during this period of transition while longer-term solutions are being evaluated and considered.”

Air traffic control towers help guide more than 65,000 flights each month at Texas municipal airports. According to pilots, the towers provide a much-needed layer of safety. When air traffic control towers are not used, a “see and avoid” method is implemented in which pilots make their own decisions about landing and taking off. According to aviation experts, this “see and avoid” practice is less safe at municipal airports where larger aircraft mix with smaller aircraft and helicopters.

Airports that will receive state funding to continue safe operations include:

New Braunfels (BAZ), Brownsville (BRO), Easterwood Field College Station (CLL), TSTC Waco
(CNW), Lone Star Executive Houston (CXO), Georgetown Muni (GTU), San Marcos Muni
(HYI), Dallas Executive (RBD), Sugarland Regional (SGR), Stinson Muni San Antonio (SSF),
Collin County Regional (TKI), Tyler Pounds Regional (TYR), Victoria Regional (VCT).
Grand Prairie Municipal and Fort Worth Spinks remain funded under a federal agreement.

This funding is for the operational expenses, including controller salaries. TxDOT will fund 90% of the expenses out of the existing state aviation funding budget. 10% of the funding will come from the airport sponsor / owner.

Stay tuned to TXAA as this vital safety issue progresses.

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