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Saturday, March 23, 2013

FAA to close Nashua Airport’s control tower; airport officials say fight isn’t over

NASHUA – Despite recent pleas from federal, state and local officials to keep the Nashua Municipal Airport’s air traffic control tower open, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that the tower was one of 149 to be shut down because of budget cuts.

Local and federal officials said the cuts jeopardize public safety, as well as the local economy. ...

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NASHUA – Despite recent pleas from federal, state and local officials to keep the Nashua Municipal Airport’s air traffic control tower open, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday that the tower was one of 149 to be shut down because of budget cuts.

Local and federal officials said the cuts jeopardize public safety, as well as the local economy.

“We did everything we possibly could, and the fact that it didn’t merit any consideration … it really bothers me,” said Don Davidson, chairman of commissioners at the airport, also known as Boire Field.

“What bothers me more: I’ve been following it at the national level, and that amendment was not allowed to come up to a vote because the administration didn’t want it. They’re playing games with safety … safety of the public.”

Davidson was referring to the “Continuing Resolution” that was being considered on the Senate floor on Tuesday, when U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., made the case for an amendment that would have kept air traffic control towers open through the rest of the year.

“The FAA can use funds from other areas of its budget, without disrupting operations, to keep contract air traffic control towers – including Nashua’s – functioning,” Ayotte said in a press release.

She’s the ranking member of Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation.

Royce Rankin, the manager of the Nashua Airport, said he’s unsure of the date the tower will close. The process will begin April 7 and will be phased in over a four-week period at airports on the chopping block across the country.

“I am extremely disappointed, but not as disappointed as the controllers are,” he said.

Seven air traffic controllers at the Nashua Airport will be without jobs once the closure kicks in. Rankin estimated that with 149 airports on the FAA’s list, roughly 1,100 air traffic controllers will be looking for jobs outside their field in the near future.

There originally were 181 towers slated for closure, and the federal government gave airports on the list the chance to make a case against their tower being shuttered. Letters from New Hampshire’s congressional delegation were sent to the Obama administration and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood late last week urging federal officials to not close the tower at Nashua’s Boire Field.

“I don’t know anything else we could have done,” Rankin said. “We wrote letters to anybody who might have been of any influence at all … Unfortunately, we were on the list. Certain airplanes that would have landed here with a control tower will opt not to because they don’t deem it as safe a flying environment as if they go up the road 12 miles to Manchester.”

“Senator Ayotte believes this could have been avoided if the amendment she supported had been voted on and approved,” Ayotte’s press secretary, Liz Johnson, said Friday. “She will continue to work with the delegation to make the case for Nashua Airport.”

The other members of the congressional delegation issued statements of disappointment.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen: “I’m disappointed by FAA’s decision to close Nashua Airport’s tower, not only because of the potential economic consequences, but also because this decision comes after the FAA recently spent $24 million to upgrade the runway.

The decision only reinforces the need for us to pass a budget that replaces these automatic cuts with a long-term, balanced plan that reins in spending while also protecting our economic interests.”

U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster: “I am very disappointed that Nashua Municipal Airport’s control tower is among those slated for closure next month due to sequestration. Granite Staters shouldn’t have to pay the price for Congress’ failure to compromise.

“I will continue to urge colleagues in both parties to replace these reckless cuts with a responsible plan that will reduce the deficit, create jobs and protect middle-class New Hampshire families and businesses.”

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter: “Instead of allowing sequestration to continue damaging our economy and the lives of workers across New Hampshire, House Republicans should allow a vote on legislation that would stop sequestration, strengthen the middle class and responsibly reduce our deficit.”

Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau welcomed the pledges to find a solution and said she would continue to work with the delegation to hopefully reverse the decision.

“One of the reasons I have been chairing the Fix the Debt Committee is because I do not believe in government by ultimatum, and that’s what sequestration really is,” she said. “And I think the result of that is what you’re seeing with this tower. This is an airport that we’ve all invested in for a long time, opened a brand new runway, and the tower is a critical part of that.”

Rankin said the runway and safety improvement project began in October 2011 and was paid for with federal money. Once the snow melts, there will still be six or seven weeks’ worth of work left.

“They just spent $25 million here to enhance safety, and then they take the control tower away,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. We’ll have a beautiful airport and no control tower.

“It’s all political. It had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with common sense.”

Davidson said politics are being put before safety of the public.

“The reason that nobody is looking at this as serious is because if we have a midair (collision) and three people get killed, it’s only three. It’s not a 747 going down with 300 people onboard,” he said. “As cruel as that sounds, these people know the accidents coming out of here are going to be local. … To me, government’s not supposed to be that way.”

Davidson said the tower’s closure will have a negative effect on the local economy.

“If the airport … is not going to be able to attract the proper jets, which help the area industry, help the airport through fuel sales and those things, it’s going to be a slow, slow, downward spiral because if we don’t get the income to run the airport, we’re going to have to cut back,” Davidson said.

“When we have to cut back, the businesses here suffer. When the businesses here suffer, they close. By the time the damage of this closure is realized by everybody, it’s going to be too late.”

Davidson pledged the Nashua Airport is ready to continue the crusade to keep its tower running.

“We’re not done on this fight,” he said. “We’re not going to give up until they actually turn the lights out.”

Erin Place can be reached at 594-6589 or eplace@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Place on Twitter (@Telegraph_ ErinP).