Sequester questions

MARQUETTE – The air traffic control facilities at Sawyer International Airport have been earmarked for possible closure under a federal budget plan.

In preparation for the possibility of budget sequestration – sweeping cuts that would take effect Friday without action by Congress – the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a plan to trim $600 million from its budget.

That plan includes furloughing a majority of FAA employes for one day per pay period, eliminating the overnight shift at 60 facilities, reducing preventive maintenance and support for all air traffic control equipment and closing more than 100 air traffic control facilities, including those at Sawyer.

Sawyer airport manager Duane Duray said Monday that the possible closure of the facility would not prevent his airport from serving the region, but said the tower adds an important level of safety.

If the air traffic control tower’s service was reduced or limited, Duray said, “Sawyer is going to continue to operate,”?he said. “The tower adds a level of safety, but it’s not absolutely necessary for our level of service.”

Duray said the FAA was targeting airports with fewer than 150,000 annual movements. Sawyer has about 15,000, he said.

He said he anticipated that any possible shutdown would be temporary.

“(The tower) adds an additional level of safety to our operations,” Duray said. “In the event we were to have a temporary slowdown or the tower were to have a temporary shutdown, it would not affect the safety of our operations.”

Additionally, Duray said, the lack of an air traffic control facility could end up harming Sawyer in the competitive marketplace. Although Sawyer is currently the only Upper Peninsula airport with a tower, other regional airports – including Duluth – have towers.

Duray said that if an airline were considering starting service in the Midwest and all other things were equal, it would likely choose to operate through an airport with an air traffic control tower.

A White House memo indicates the Transportation Safety Administration would be forced to reduce its workforce, increasing passenger wait times. The TSA would also need to explore a hiring freeze, eliminate overtime and furlough employees for some period of time.

Duray said he has received no indication that the TSA changes would in any way affect Sawyer.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said he is frustrated by the sequestration discussion to this point, and said he was monitoring the situation at Sawyer.

“What’s frustrating to me is that they never cut the fourth vice president of an agency,” he said this morning. “Instead, they get rid of the guys on the ground that are actually doing the work.”

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.