By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The air traffic control tower at Tupelo Regional Airport will stay open at least through the end of September, thanks to the agency that had threatened to shutter it and 148 others across the nation.
The Federal Aviation Administration is shifting some $21 million to fund its contract tower program, which pays outside companies to run towers at small- and medium-sized airports nationwide.
The FAA had planned to close 149 contract towers on June 15 as a result of sequester budget cuts.
“We’re relieved,” said Doug Metz, the air traffic control manager in Tupelo. “It’s been a long process. … now hopefully the powers that be can get a long-term contract in place.”
Metz and four others would have been laid off in about a month, but he said they can now breathe a little easier.
“I’m happy for them, I’m happy for all of us, but I’m especially happy for the flying community,” he said. “They’ve been very supportive.”
Josh Abramson, the airport’s executive director, said he, too, was pleased with the FAA’s decision.
“We’re relieved to have a tower, which is important to have with fluid air traffic,” he said.
In addition to Tupelo, other Mississippi airport towers that will remain open are Greenville’s Delta Regional Airport, Jackson’s Hawkins Field, Bay St. Louis’ Stennis International Airport and Olive Branch AIrport.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who co-signed legislation to help keep the towers operating, praised the FAA’s decision.
“I am glad to hear the Department of Transportation has allowed the Federal Aviation Administration to allocate sufficient funds for maintaining top priorities,”he said. “We must work to keep essential employees controlling our skies and ensure that our contract control towers stay open. This is further evidence that we can prioritize and make modest savings in our non-defense budget without inflicting painful service disruptions.”