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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nashua airport makes pitch to keep control tower open, stressing safety, business interests

NASHUA – Federal, state and local officials are petitioning the Obama administration to not shut down the control tower at the Nashua Airport, citing the volume of flights at the small airfield as well as safety concerns should the airport be without air traffic controllers.

Closing the tower also will hurt the region’s economy, according to Don Davidson, chairman of the Nashua Airport Authority and just one of the people to write to FAA officials this week. ...

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NASHUA – Federal, state and local officials are petitioning the Obama administration to not shut down the control tower at the Nashua Airport, citing the volume of flights at the small airfield as well as safety concerns should the airport be without air traffic controllers.

Closing the tower also will hurt the region’s economy, according to Don Davidson, chairman of the Nashua Airport Authority and just one of the people to write to FAA officials this week.

Davidson was joined in the letter campaign by state Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement and the state’s entire congressional delegation.

Airport officials are hoping to prevent the tower’s closure after the FAA’s notice earlier this month that the Nashua tower is among 189 towers across the country slated for closure following sequestration cuts.

“It’s our job on the
authority to make sure it isn’t one of those 189,” said Davidson. The airport submitted the letter to FAA administrator Michael Huertas in Washington, D.C.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation also urged U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to keep the Nashua Airport tower open.

In a letter to Hood sent Tuesday, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter said the airport plays a vital role in the region by lessening congestion at other airports.

Clement said the airport supports more than 100 businesses.

“These businesses rely on the airport to provide safety-related services, like the air traffic control services, so that they can continue to operate and complete providing jobs to American citizens,” Clement wrote.

One of the points that the city authority stressed in its letter
was maintaining safety at the airfield. Nashua Airport is a training site for student aviators who employ small, slow aircraft, but it also is used by corporate jets that transport executives from companies with offices or factories in Greater Nashua. That’s a dangerous mix without a traffic controller, the airport argues.

“Everyday, common-sense logic will tell you that if you have an airport with 60,000 operations a year and a high mix of jet traffic involved with small slow training aircraft, you’ve set the conditions for potential safety issues without a controlling effect on those movements,” said Davidson. “A lot of airports in the country don’t have towers, but very few of those airports have a big mix of jet traffic with training traffic.”

Davidson says he is not as concerned about the jet pilots as he is with the student pilots.

“The pilots will work together, but the students don’t have the experience or background to react in the manner that’s safe,” said Davidson. “We have users of the airport, that since this has come out, have expressed concern about coming in to an uncontrolled airport. That’s going to affect the local economy. Jets coming in that serve BAE and Costco and any of the other regional companies would not want to come into an airport that has the mix we have, without a control tower.”

What Davidson thinks may make a difference is the $25 million upgrade, including an extension of the runway to make traffic safer, Nashua Airport completed last fall in accordance with the FAA’s updated safety regulations.

FAA administrator Huerta was among those who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the expansion in September.

“The whole genesis of the new runway was the FAA’s decision several years back that our existing runway did not meet the safety criteria that the FAA had put in place about a decade ago. When we applied to rebuild the runway, they came back in support that we build a new runway that would meet the safety criteria,” said Davidson. “The benefits of the new runway go away without the tower.”

“It’s kind of ironic that the $25 million total spent to build the new runway at Nashua for FAA safety reasons and then four months later they close the tower. And that’s a little bit of uniqueness that we have that the other 189 airports don’t have,” said Davidson.

William Wrobel can be reached at
594-6426 or wwrobel@nashua telegraph.com. Also, follow Wrobel on Twitter
(@Telegraph_WillW).