California Confusion

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Cash-Strapped Cali To Raid Aviation Funds?...

"Chaos in California" was a common headline over the weekend, as dozens signed up to run against Gov. Gray Davis in the state's recall election. That chaos is affecting GA, too. In the midst of a budget crisis, the state, through signed budget legislation, could divert $4.8 million (capable of leveraging near $28 million in federal funds) from the Division of Aeronautics into the general fund. That money is derived from taxes on users of the aviation system, says AOPA, and should be used for aviation support. While AOPA last week urged approval of a bill now in the state Senate that would safeguard the funds, a story titled "State budget includes vital airport funds" that last week ran in California's Desert News credits others and seemed more assured of the outcome. ...Maybe Arnold could figure it all out? The article says California City Municipal Airport Manager Tom Weil "worked the issue vigorously by walking the halls in the state capitol since learning some six months ago that $5 million in state aviation funds might be transferred into the state general fund by Governor Gray Davis ..." Weil gives much of the credit for saving the funds to state Senator Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield). "This $5 million insures that [local projects will go] forward, and it also guarantees that the $10,000 annual grants airport receive comes to us," Weil told the Desert News. Said AOPA President Phil Boyer, who still leads the charge to make sure the legislation is put into effect as advertised: "Without these funds, there would be a dramatic decrease in funding for aeronautics programs, and the safety and utility of many general aviation airports would be adversely impacted."

...As Busy Van Nuys Makes "Privatizable" List...

Amidst all that California chaos, air traffic controllers from Van Nuys Airport held a press conference to publicize the fact that their tower -- which handles more than 500,000 takeoffs and landings each year -- could be contracted out to private workers under the current version of the FAA reauthorization bill. "Privatizing air traffic control will put companies focused on cutting corners in charge of landing planes," said John Goodin, local chapter president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) at the Van Nuys control tower. Of the 69 air traffic control towers slated for privatization, 11 are among the nation's 50 busiest towers, NATCA says. Van Nuys is the eighth-busiest in the country, says NATCA. (Preliminary information from the Airports Council International this year lists VNY at number 12 among U.S. airports for total aircraft movements.) "Van Nuys Airport air traffic controllers call upon Sen. Boxer, Sen. Feinstein and California's delegation in the U.S. House to support the safety of the traveling public by rejecting the privatization of towers," said Goodin.

..And Vandenberg AFB Switches To Contract ATC

Meanwhile, as tensions intensify over the issue of ATC privatization, the tower at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base has quietly become the first active-duty Air Force tower to be manned by contract civilian air traffic controllers. The switch took place August 1. "Air traffic control is on the critical-skills list for the Air Force," Capt. Michael Horowitz told the Air Force News Service. To help free up some controllers for other Air Force slots, Horowitz said, it was decided that some of the slower towers could be outsourced to civilian contract workers. The switch will save the Air Force $520,000 over a three-year period, he added. "It is the end of one era and the start of a new," Col. Frank Gallegos, 30th Space Wing commander, told the Lompoc Record. "All eyes are on Vandenberg to see how we do with this contract." Serco Management Services, which also operates towers at Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, will handle the ATC duties. Serco will be paid $1.3 million over three years. Vandenberg AFB is located on the California coast, 55 miles north of Santa Barbara.