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Raleigh County airport officials promote ‘virtual tower’ concept

BECKLEY, W.Va. — A move by the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year to eliminate air traffic control jobs amid the federal sequester threatened the future of small airports across the country including several in West Virginia.

FAA officials will visit the Beckley Memorial Airport this week.

However, officials with the Raleigh County Memorial Airport think they have a solution.

“We are demonstrating to the FAA and the flying public the ‘virtual tower’ concept for air traffic control,” said Raleigh County Memorial Airport Manager Tom Cochran.  “We’re using off the shelf technology, which is already out there, but isn’t used to track aircraft.”

Cochran said the airport will host representatives of the FAA later this week to show how the concept will work.

This week offered the perfect opportunity to show the effectiveness of the technology because traffic in and out of the airport connected to the National Boy Scout Jamboree will be well above normal.

“With the anticipated increase in traffic, it’s just an ideal time to demonstrate this system,” he said.

The Beckley air space is controlled by Charleston approach at Yeager Airport.  Cochran adds, however, the air traffic controllers in Charleston are unable to see what’s happening below 5,000 feet in Beckley.  He said the virtual tower would fill the void.

“A couple of months ago, the FAA was talking about closing 170 or so towers across the country,” Cochran said. “Those towers were airports just like Beckley. This technology is a step toward keeping our air space protected.”

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