Quantcast
 
Loading
WatchSonoma
WatchSonoma Watch

‘Sequester’ could close Sonoma County airport control tower

By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The air traffic control tower at Sonoma County’s regional airport may be shut down if the nation’s elected leaders can’t reach a budget deal by Friday, a scenario some fear could limit commercial passenger flights in and out of Santa Rosa or halt them entirely.

The control tower, which employs about a dozen federal employees, is on a list of 200 facilities at smaller airports that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned Friday could be shut down as part of automatic spending cuts scheduled for March 1.

The tower at the Sonoma County airport. (PD File)

The tower at the Sonoma County airport. (PD File)

Alaska Airlines, which operates ten daily flights in and out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, could continue to offer that service if the control tower shut down, said John Stout, the airport manager.

But he said pilots of the 76-seat turbo-prop planes flown by the airline would be on their own to guide the aircraft in and out of the airport, as would non-commercial pilots of smaller planes.

Stout said Alaska already operates out of several airports nationwide that lack air traffic control. The airline’s first daily departure and last arrival at the Sonoma County airport also are without the assistance of controllers because the tower is closed during those hours.

But Stout said “it’s always better when you have extra eyes.”

Stout said he tried reaching Alaska on Friday to ask what the airline intends to do if the Sonoma County tower is closed. Airline representatives did not return several messages left Friday and Saturday seeking comment.

About $1.2 trillion would be automatically cut from federal spending over the next decade if President Obama cannot reach a budget-reduction agreement with Congress by Friday. That amounts to about $85 billion in the remaining months of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

The legislative process that would force the cuts is known as a “sequester.”

Lahood said 100 control towers from the proposed closure list could ultimately shut down by April 1 if an agreement isn’t reached by Friday’s budget deadline. The Federal Aviation Administration would meet with air-traffic controllers and airlines to decide which of the towers would be shuttered.

The control tower at Napa County’s airport also is on the proposed closure list.

Stout said the FAA leases the tower at the Sonoma County airport for about $65,000 a year, and that losing that money would force the airport to trim some expenses. The airport operating budget is about $7.5 million.

Stout said the dozen or so federal air traffic controllers who work at the airport and earn $80,000 to $100,000 a year could be furloughed as little as two days a month or laid off.

Statewide, about 225,000 federal jobs are at risk, according to Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. He predicted Friday that Congress won’t resolve the budget stalemate until after the cuts hit and the public sees the consequences.

In a prepared statement, Thompson blamed the Republican majority in the House for playing “political games” that could cost jobs and “unnecessarily (put) people’s safety at risk.”

Sonoma County’s air traffic controllers monitor five miles of airspace that surround the facility northwest of Santa Rosa. All pilots are required to have a radio to keep in contact with controllers, Stout said.

That requirement would go away if the tower were to close and the airspace revert to being uncontrolled. Pilots would be on their own to safely maneuver into place for take-offs and landings.

Stout said he has concerns about the faster and larger Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft operated by Alaska overtaking smaller aircraft without guidance from air traffic controllers.

“It wouldn’t be any different than (airports) at Petaluma, Cloverdale and Healdsburg. We just have bigger airplanes,” he said.

Alaska operates ten flights daily to and from Sonoma County’s airport. Ridership grew 3 percent last year to nearly 214,000 passengers, a jump attributed largely to added flights last summer to Southern California.

Stout said it’s possible passengers could face longer security lines at the airport if the worst-case scenario plays out in Washington. He said security at the Sonoma County airport is provided by a federal contractor.

“They may have fewer people operating the checkpoints. That may slow down the process,” he said.

Stout said the Sonoma County airport also houses a federal facility that maintains navigational equipment at airports on the coast north of the Golden Gate Bridge. He said about a dozen employees work at that facility.





18 Responses to “‘Sequester’ could close Sonoma County airport control tower”

  1. James Bennett says:

    Yes, but there’s billions for ‘High Speed Rail’.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. Reality Check says:

    I can think of more appropriate cuts, but I’m not surprised this is what they’ll do.

    Remember, it wasn’t long ago that the FAA decided the way to fix the problem of lone controllers falling asleep during slow shifts at nights was to assign a second controller. That way, presumably, they either could keep each other awake or take turns sleeping.

    In most of these tales of woe the department facing “draconian” cuts has received substantial budget increases in recent years. According to the CBO, the actual cuts in fiscal 2013 amount to $45B, or 2.5% for civilian discretionary spending and 4% for military. It’s hard to believe Western Civilization is in jeopardy.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  3. Snarky says:

    And you thought that California finances were finally coming together :)

    Well, thats what the public employee unions and their puppets in government wanted you to believe.

    But read the following. You won’t ever see it in the Press Democrat.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/25/california-pensions-idUSL1N0BPG1X20130225?feedType=RSS&feedName=financialsSector&rpc=43

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  4. David says:

    If the taxpayers are paying your salary OR your retirement, you shouldn’t be allowed to post on these boards as you obviously can’t be objective.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  5. The Hammer says:

    The only way governments will learn to function with less funds is to force them to get by with less.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  6. Steveguy says:

    Oh no ! A 2% real fake ‘cut’ will crash a plane into my house ! I should build a bunker.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  7. Snarky says:

    Vinyle Rules:

    Uh, people who profess a hate of government are at least able to function in the private sector.

    Now, those who cannot survive without a government job… those are the ones we really need to worry about.

    Look at the Mayor of Bell, CA, who is right now awaiting the conclusion of his criminal trial. He didn’t even graduate from high school nor is able to read, per his criminal defense attorney.

    A classic example of government “expertise.”

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  8. bear says:

    If your federal taxes have increased (next year), you make too much money to be posting on this board.

    A shame when the sense of entitlement overwhelms all interest in the public good.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  9. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    Airports should pay their own way, without any tax payer dollars. All costs should be covered by the users of the service, just like the US Postal Service. And like the USPS, all airports should be required to pre-fund billions of dollars to the retiree health benefits of future employees.

    Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth. ~Henry David Thoreau

    Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  10. Reality Check says:

    I can think of more appropriate cuts, but I’m not surprised this is what they’ll do.

    Remember, it wasn’t long ago that the FAA decided the way to fix the problem of lone controllers falling asleep during slow shifts at nights was to assign a second controller. That way, presumably, they could either keep each other awake or, more likely, take turns sleeping.

    In most of these tales of woe the department facing “draconian” cuts has received substantial budget increases. According to the CBO, the actual cuts in fiscal 2013 amount to $45B, or 2.5% for civilian discretionary spending and 4% for military. It’s hard to believe Western Civilization is in jeopardy.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. Vinyl Rules says:

    Wait, you’re telling me that putting people in charge of the government who profess a hatred of government leads to bad results? I am completely shocked!

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  12. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Stop voting Republican. The time of moderate, practical, sensible, logical, intelligent, compassionate Republican candidates who have good critical thinking and problem solving skills is gone. The time of fiscally conservative Republicans has long gone. Every Republican President since Reagan has raised the deficit. Borrow and spend Republicans. Then they blame it all on the Democrats.

    We the people have been forgotten by the Republicans. We are good for votes only and they will lie, cheat, take away voting rights to get those votes.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 18

  13. Grapevines says:

    Nice to see that the PD has taken the playbook from the “Great Teleprompter Reader” in DC and trying to spread fear and dread locally in this.

    What’s next when Sequester sets in? Will the lane lines on the freeways disappear causing “lane-change chaos?” Fire hydrants will stop working and conflagration will ensue? Chickens and cows will stop producing throwing the whole dairy industry into panic?

    There’s less funds being cut out of the budget than what was gained by the tax increases given in to just 3 months ago. The world will continue to spin and puppies will lick children.

    And it’s a good start on reigning in this out of control spending by the Reid/Pelosi crowd.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  14. joe right says:

    Does anyone really believe this? Even with the ‘Sequester’
    there is an increase in spending. Same tired pitch.”Give us more money or your services get it”!

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 5

  15. David J. Spencer says:

    Yawn. Here we go again.

    O.K. everybody, Google “Washington Monument Syndrome” and you’ll see what’s happening here.

    The Wikipedia account explains everything nicely.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  16. Snarky says:

    Did you all know that the State of California’s fiscal fix with the most recent increase in taxes is now predicted to be…. uh….. NOT enough!

    Yep.

    Those in the know say that the State of California will be in fiscal chaos once again… in roughly five months.

    Aren’t you glad ? LOL

    Yes, that is a STATE problem. The Feds finances are just as fouled up.

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  17. The Answer says:

    The echo chamber press continues to repeat the chant that Obama is preaching, the sky is falling, the sky is falling.

    Sequestor will not cut services. It will slow the wild spending. Obama thought it was a great idea when he signed the bill. Now his runs around yelling about the dire consequences of sequestor and how just raising taxes on the rich will solve all. The rich can’t solve this political problem for Obama.

    Only Obama can solve this problem by meeting with Congress and coming up with a solution. But he is too stubborn and believes in bringing this country down to size.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Skippy says:

    When Big Govt raises your taxes 3-6%, you are expected to suck it up and get by on less. God forbid if they have to do half the same. Suddenly the world will stop spinning and a plague of locusts will descend oer’ the land. Total elitist drug addict mentality. A sequester of 850 million would be a good place to start. Shut it all down and send ‘em home for good.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 4

Leave a Reply