SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 28, 2013

Keep control towers open, delegation urges

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — The state’s congressional delegation is once again urging the government not to close air traffic control towers at six airports in the state, including Beverly Municipal Airport.

In a Nov. 22 letter to the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, as well as the state’s eight congressional members, said they are concerned that the FAA is again considering closing the towers due to budget cuts.

“While we understand that the FAA is facing fiscal constraints resulting from the Budget Control Act, we continue to feel strongly that safety, security and economic well-being should not be jeopardized,” the letter said.

The fate of the control towers has been uncertain since March, when the FAA announced that it would stop funding for 149 towers around the country that are operated through contracts with the FAA. The agency said the closures were necessary because it was facing a $637 million budget cut due to automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

The towers included those at airports in Beverly, Lawrence, New Bedford, Norwood, Westfield-Barnes and Worcester.

Facing political pressure and multiple legal challenges, the agency announced a month later that it would delay the closings. On May 1, President Barack Obama signed a bill called the Reduced Flight Delays Act of 2013 that provided temporary funding to keep the towers open.

The Massachusetts congressional delegation, including Congressman John Tierney of Salem, said last week that it is concerned the tower closures could come up again “without a long-term budget solution in place.”

Beverly Airport, which is owned by the city, has had a control tower since 1977. A private company staffs the tower through a contract with the FAA. It is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May to November and from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from November to May.

Pilots communicate with each other and activate taxi-way lights to help them land when the tower is not staffed.

Beverly Airport Commission member Paul Barnico said having an air traffic controller is especially important at an airport like Beverly’s that has student pilots. North Shore Community College runs its aviation science program out of Beverly Airport.

“You can’t overemphasize the safety aspect of it,” Barnico said.

Barnico said Beverly Airport’s current tower chief, Wes Rosen, “is the best we’ve ever had.”

Beverly Airport handles about 60,000 takeoffs and landings per year. Barnico said the airport set a monthly record for landings by corporate aircraft in July with 157, reflecting the importance of the airport to the area’s economy.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.