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3 W.Va. airport towers on FAA closure list

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Contract air traffic control towers serving airports at Lewisburg, Parkersburg and Wheeling were among 149 across the nation that will close beginning April 7, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Friday.

In early March, the FAA announced that 189 contract control towers nationwide were being proposed for closure to help bring about the 5 percent reduction in spending called for in the federal budget sequestration process.

After reviewing the proposal, the FAA decided to keep 24 of the towers open. An additional 16 towers that are now operated under a special congressionally mandated cost-share program will remain open, but their host airports will make 5 percent spending cuts through methods other than tower closures.

A midnight to 5 a.m. air traffic controller shift at Charleston's Yeager Airport was proposed for closure in early March, but a final decision is not expected until April, according to airport Director Rick Atkinson.

Friday's announcement does not necessarily signal the end of commercial air service now available at Lewisburg's Greenbrier Valley Airport and Mid-Ohio Regional Airport, serving Parkersburg, according to Susan Chernenko, director of the state Aeronautics Commission.

"There are certainly possibilities for keeping commercial service, and other services, open," Chernenko said. "Raleigh County Memorial Airport at Beckley doesn't have a tower and it has commercial air service," with pilots using controllers from another airport, she said.

The Parkersburg and Wheeling airports host West Virginia Air National Guard units, with the Wheeling airport also hosting training flights for C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft under a U.S. Air Force contract, Chernenko said. All three have substantial general-aviation use, as well.

"The state and our congressional delegation will work with the three airports, the airlines and the military to keep their operations viable," Chernenko said. "There is no reason why all three airports won't remain open."

After the initial list of 189 airports proposed for closure was compiled, the FAA conducted a review to make sure the planned closures did not pose significant threats to national security or cause regional economic harm.

"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers, and these were very tough decisions," federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in making Friday's announcement. "Unfortunately, we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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