FAA may be having second thoughts about reducing air traffic control at Yeager Airport

UPDATE Friday, Jan. 3– 10 a.m. —  The Kanawha County Commission announced it has received information that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is strongly considering to not move forward with their proposal to reduce working hours for the Air Traffic Control Tower at Yeager Airport. The commission said it would confirm the information next week with U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

“First and foremost, I would like to commend the hardworking and dedicated employees of Yeager Airport. What once was a certainty, has now been halted as strong concern was expressed to the FAA. Director Nick Keller was vigilant and steadfast in showing the FAA the detrimental damage this reduction would cause,” Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said Friday. “The proposal to close the tower at night would not only cause irreparable damage to the economy of Kanawha County but also the entire state of West Virginia. Yeager Airport is the gateway to our capital city and the largest airport in the state. Millions of dollars would be lost if the FAA goes through with this plan. It is my privilege to stand up for the people of Kanawha County, the people of the State of West Virginia and the hardworking employees of Yeager Airport. We look forward to continually growing our economy as our airport is an enormous part of that growth.”

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A study beginning this week by the Federal Aviation Administration into the cost-benefit of having Yeager Airport’s air traffic tower open 24 hours a day has officials worried.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sent a memo to 15 airports across the nation including Charleston’s Yeager Airport as being potential candidates for a reduction in operating hours for their towers, closing them overnight, in order to cut costs.

Yeager Airport Director Nick Keller told MetroNews the changes that would come to the airport if such reduction would occur, would have a “devastating” effect on airport safety and airport operations, thus effecting the economy in the area.

Nick Keller

“With the amount of military traffic that we have at night, you add that in with air medical evacuation helicopters, charter aircraft, and some late airline flights…We think that is a bad combination for safety,” Keller said on Thursday.

The study, that Keller expects to be finished by the end of January, could result in the closure of the Yeager air traffic control tower from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. According to Keller, Yeager Airport has seen 315 flights arrive after 11 p.m. over the past two years totaling around 30,000 passengers.

If the elimination goes through, any aircraft going in and out of the airport would have to communicate with air traffic control in Indianapolis.

“If there was ever an emergency incident, like an aircraft crash in the middle of the night, the Indianapolis center would have no way to know about it,” Keller told MetroNews. “There would be nobody in the tower watching the airfield.

“We would just have to hope that somebody would see it.”

Keller voiced additional safety concerns including for operations. Any vehicle, whether airport operations, first responders or snow removal, that has to drive on the runway or taxiway gets permission from the tower. Keller said the closure overnight would result in a “just look and avoid aircraft” approach.

In a letter responding to the FAA’s memo on the study, Keller also detailed the military operations coming in and out of Yeager in the evenings and early morning.

In the last 14 months over 100 military units have stopped at the airport for fuel or training overnight. He said the 24-hour FAA staffed control tower is a major attraction to those military trainings because many military airfields are closed at night.

VIEW: Yeager Airport’s letter to the FAA

Marshall University will begin constructing a School of Aviation at Yeager Airport this year and Keller said that school would also take a hit. The plan for part of the curriculum is to include late-night flight training and aircraft returning from cross country flights.

Keller said a complete curriculum would lead to an increase in operations but he is worried the operations will decrease along with enplanement numbers if everything falls through.

“This would make the airport less reliable,” Keller said.

“People would say ‘Why would we schedule a flight in here late at night if there is a chance it gets delayed and we have to cancel it?’ This would just make the airline performance look a lot worse and it would have a ripple effect.”

The Kanawha County Commission, West Virginia Air National Guard and some congressional leaders have all sent letters to the FAA expressing concern, Keller said.

“We’ve formed a partnership to raise these objections and tell the FAA they need to consider the big picture here and the effects on safety and the effects on the local economy.”

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