(CT Post) Sen. McLachlan: Danbury Municipal Airport’s contribution to local economy should not be overlooked.

March 19, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

Blumenthal aims to restore some airport funding
Bill Cummings
Updated 11:19 pm, Monday, March 18, 2013

HARTFORD — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, is pushing Congress to spare air-traffic controllers at small airports from the federal budget ax.

The senator said he would work to restore funding for thousands of controllers facing furloughs because of sequestration by introducing an amendment to a continuing resolution to fund the government.

Surrounded by planes in a hanger at Hartford-Brainard Airport, Blumenthal said the Federal Aviation Administration has $50 million in unobligated funds that can be used to pay air-traffic controllers.

The FAA is facing a $637 million cut this fiscal year as part of its share of automatic cutbacks being forced by the budget stalemate in Washington. The cut translates into placing 47,000 FAA employees nationwide on periodic furloughs, including air traffic controllers.

Large airports like Bradley International would not be impacted by the cuts.
“The $50 million could be transferred but we are going to have to push it through,” Blumenthal said.

Danbury Municipal Airport Manager Paul Estefan said he hopes the proposal succeeds.
“We are busy and we have the highest number of aircraft,” Estefan said “We want our tower operational.”

Control towers at the state’s small airports — Brainard, Sikorsky Memorial, Danbury, Tweed-New Haven, Waterbury-Oxford and Groton-New London — will begin closing April 7 if funding is not restored.

“We can keep the towers open if we use the money that is there and ensure that air safety will be sustained,” Blumenthal said.

Airport officials conceded planes could still land at the airports if control towers close, but stressed the risk of accident would rise.

“There will be a higher level of risk as pilots try to mix together,” said Terry Keller, chief flight instructor for Premiere Flight Center at Brainard. “They can land without a tower, but it would raise the risk.”

“The key word is risk,” Blumenthal added. “Air-control towers reduce risk. That is profoundly important.”

Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin Dillon said the planned 75 percent cut in the air-traffic-control budget is “misguided and targets this program unfairly.

“When you close 30 percent of the towers there will be safety implications. That should have been considered,” Dillon said.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the airports contribute to the local economy.

“I appreciate our state’s congressional delegation stepping up with Republicans and Democrats on behalf of Danbury Airport and so many airports across the country,”McLachlan said. “These control towers maintain safety and order in the skies, and going without the Danbury Municipal Airport Tower would lead to a lack of traffic flow safety. Closing the Danbury tower would be like allowing an intersection with an out-of-service traffic light to go without a traffic director.

This is also a matter of good jobs that impact local families. Six people are employed at the Danbury tower, and that’s six more people who are faced with going without work in a time when they are already sacrificing a great deal. The funding cut also takes away revenue from municipalities, because there are several aviation businesses at these smaller contract airports.”