April 5, 2013

Maine delegation urges no shift cuts for Bangor airport

A letter calls upon the FAA to keep the airport air traffic control tower open around the clock.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Maine's congressional delegation is urging federal officials to keep Bangor International Airport's air traffic control tower open around the clock, arguing that the airport plays a "strategic role" in commercial and military aviation.

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Bangor is either the first or last U.S. airport for trans-Atlantic flights that need to land due to emergencies, poor weather conditions or for other reasons.

Flybangor.com photo

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PDF: Letter to FAA and DOT on Bangor airport tower

Federal Aviation Administration officials have indicated that the Bangor airport could lose overnight air traffic control shifts because of federal budget cuts that took effect in March.

While a decision on those shifts was delayed until July, Maine's two House members and two senators sent a letter Thursday urging Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta to reconsider the cuts.

The letter, signed by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud, says: "Maintaining these hours is in the best interest of the flying public and will ensure our servicemen and women can continue their national security missions without being placed at unnecessary risk."

Air traffic control will be handled by the staff at Boston's Logan International Airport if the FAA eliminates overnight shifts at Bangor.

Maine's delegation said that would hurt the airport's ability to handle diverted flights.

As a "designated diversion airport," Bangor is the first or last U.S. airport for trans-Atlantic flights that must land because of emergencies, poor weather or other reasons.

"Its position along the highly trafficked Atlantic air routes has resulted in more than 650 diversion flights ... since 2005, an average of more than two diversion flights per week," the letter says.

"Reducing overnight hours at the ... tower would inhibit the airport's ability to provide these critical services and would place the traveling public at unnecessary risk."

The Maine Air National Guard's 101st Air Refueling Wing operates 24 hours a day out of Bangor in support of military and national defense operations.

The delegation's letter faults the FAA for not properly weighing the various types of missions served by the refueling wing as part of its criteria for reducing hours.

The elimination of overnight staffing in the airport's tower could result in a loss of as much as $2 million in direct revenue as commercial airlines or the military route late-night flights elsewhere, the delegation said.

Bangor is one of 60 airports nationwide where the FAA has said it may eliminate overnight air traffic control shifts as it works to absorb its share of $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts through Sept. 30. Manchester-Boston Regional Airport is also on the list.

More than 100 smaller airports around the country could lose their towers because of the cutbacks. Those closures originally were scheduled for this weekend, but the FAA announced Friday that it will delay action until mid-June.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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