BY TOM DALTON
---- — A troubling message arrived Tuesday at Beverly Airport.
With automatic federal spending cuts slated to begin today, the airport was told its air-traffic control tower will close as of April 1.
If those cuts take effect, Beverly Airport will stay open but will operate without controllers, something it has done in the past.
The National Park Service is also bracing for the first blow from sequestration — the name given to the $85 billion scheduled to be cut from the proposed federal budget if Democrats and Republicans in Washington, D.C., can’t work out a deal.
At the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, there is a hiring freeze. They also expect to eliminate eight of the 16 to 20 seasonal rangers and maintenance staff usually hired for six-month positions during the busy tourism season.
“It’s really plugging up all the works,” said Jonathan Parker, a public information officer at the Salem site.
“The bulk of the front-line employees during the peak visitor season are, for the most part, seasonal employees, and that’s across the National Park Service. They are the backbone of our front-line operations during peak season ... leading tours, taking out the trash and patrolling the parks.”
The projected cuts could also impact services and hours, Parker said.
For many agencies that depend heavily on federal funds, the biggest problem right now is the uncertainty.
“Frankly, we have had zero guidance on the impact,” said Susan Todd, president of Pathways for Children, an early education agency that runs Peabody Head Start, which serves more than 230 preschoolers from Salem, Peabody, Beverly and other communities.
“I can’t tell my staff or families anything because we haven’t been informed,” she said.
Representatives from Beverly Airport have contacted federal officials to complain about the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan to close air traffic control towers at small commuter airports.
“It’s going to lessen safety and efficiency, of course, and probably will create more noise problems,” said Bob Mezzetti, the airport manager.
Beverly Airport, which handled 59,000 takeoffs and landings last year, hosts a range of aircraft from single-engine planes to larger corporate jets.
Although the possible loss of air-traffic controllers sounds dire, Mezzetti said, “It’s not unusual to have (small) airports with no control towers.”
When controllers aren’t present, pilots communicate with one another on a common radio frequency to coordinate landings and takeoffs, he said.
Although the controllers are hired by a private agency and aren’t airport employees, Mezzetti estimated that around a half-dozen work at Beverly. For the most part, they work during daylight hours.
Several decades ago, before Beverly Airport had a control tower, it had several flight schools and more than 200,000 takeoffs and landings a year, according to Mezzetti.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.