For reasons that should be obvious, the FAA is struggling with deciding which towers will be shutdown as a result of the federal budget sequestration. On its face, it should be simple enough: Just sort the towers by movements and lop off just enough to meet the required budget cuts. Done deal.
But as usual, politics intervene as it did yesterday in Connecticut when Sen. Richard Blumenthal showed up at Hartford-Brainard Airport pledging to keep the tower there open. Perversely, Blumenthal said he found $50 million in unobligated FAA funds that he said could be applied to keep the towers humming. Your government at work: If you find money, spend it; don't think of applying it to the vast debt you owe and maybe doing without a little. In case this has a familiar odor, it should. It's just old-fashioned pork barreling and is but one reason why we have such massive public debt.
I surfed over to AOPA's forum and have noticed a couple of petitions circulating to keep towers open at smaller airports. The two I sawone actually for Brainard and another in Hutchinson, Kansasgot a chilly reception from forum members. AOPA called actor and aviation enthusiast Harrison Ford into the fight this week and that seems to have landed like a bag of wet cement, too.
What the hell is going on? Have we all become aviation self-haters here? I don't think so. What I think is going on is a rising awareness that government spending needs to be reduced and a willingness to give up something to do it. I suspect AOPA is, once again, out of step with its members on this, but who knows? So we're doing another survey to test the waters.
Click here if you'd like to take the survey. It'll take about five minutes.
Although it might seem that the discussion is about the high principle of government involvement in industry, it's really more about how much government should be involved in industry, in my view. We, as a nation, long ago agreed that the government should make these kinds of basic infrastructure investments; now we're discussing where to position the spending level.
Seventy five years ago, when our little Cub was coming off the line at Lock Haven, aviation was a bustling growth industry, despite the Great Depression. Florida is peppered with airports that owe their existence to both the Works Progress Administration and a solid push from the Civilian Pilot Training Program. The War Department did the rest. This did two things: It primed the pump for desperately needed pilots for World War II and it set up the post-war growth of general aviation as we know it today.
The fact that government had a role back then played out again right here at my home airport recently, when the old main runway was rebuilt at a cost of $8.4 million, about 90 percent of it from state and federal funds. The fact that there seems to be wide agreement that it's right and proper for the federal government to make these investments suggests we haven't entered some new-age Libertarian time warp. Communities and pilots alike see the benefits.
But the tower issue seems different. We're starting to ask whether marginal investments are worth it. Pilots may be too smart to buy into the broad-brush towers-are-safer claim, although politicians like Blumenthal can count on the public not being similarly disposed. I suspect the good senator is actually quite clueless about how air traffic control works and the risks involved, but is pursuing tower preservation as an attempt at full employment. I'm sympathetic. It's easy to thunder about federal spending when it's not your job on the line. Still, the line has to be drawn somewhere.
Where do you draw it? Take the survey here, and tell us what you think below. And look for more reporting on the issue later this week.
To see the potential tower closure list,
To gather data on tower traffic level and operations, click here.