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FAA sequester plan pulls controllers from 5 W.Va. airports

Read a related story here.CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Federal Aviation Administration said it would remove air traffic controllers from five state airports in anticipation of looming budget cuts.

It also would eliminate two overnight controllers at Yeager Airport.

The FAA proposed closing all towers at: North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport; Wheeling Ohio County Airport in Wheeling; Tri-State Airport in Huntington; Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg; and Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport in Parkersburg.

The agency posted a statement on its website Friday announcing that it's considering furloughing about 47,000 employees for one pay period, closing more than 100 air control facilities, eliminating 60 overnight shifts and reducing preventative maintenance support. This would save about $600 million for the remainder of fiscal year 2013, ahead of sequestration cuts scheduled to take effect March 1.

"All of these changes will be finalized as to scope and details through collaborative discussions with our users and our unions," the statement said.

Terry Moore, manager of Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport, said he's not happy about the proposal to eliminate his towers. He briefed air traffic controllers Friday morning about it so they wouldn't be caught off guard, he said.

Without air traffic controllers, airplanes can still land, but he said it won't be as safe.

"As far as the impact on the airport and the ability to do business, it won't have much of an impact," Moore said. "It does make us somewhat uncomfortable."

The FAA has a contract with a company that runs the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport tower, he said.

"I guess this shows they are willing to break the contract with that company," Moore said.

He said he hopes this FAA proposal isn't foreshadowing more cuts to come, such as a drop in military air travel or a reduced Transportation Security Administration staff.

"I hope closing the tower would be a short-term thing, but you never know," he said. "I hope they wouldn't just leave this big building here vacant."

Yeager Airport spokesman Brian Belcher said he hasn't talked to anyone at the FAA about the proposal, but thinks the agency would eliminate the 12 a.m. to 5 a.m. control shift. Two FAA employees are in the control facility during that time, he said.

Only private aircraft, such as FedEx or UPS, fly into Yeager that early in the morning. No commercial airpcraft would be affected, Belcher said.

"We have concerns with what hours they are they talking about," he said. " If it's something different than that, we will have to have a discussion about it."

Tri-State Airport Director Jerry Brienza did not return phone messages Friday evening.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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