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Columbia airport tower to remain operational

Delta cuts flights to Columbia's regional airport

Edited at 3:30 pm with quotes from Columbia Public Works

Columbia Regional Airport (COU) issued a press released Friday afternoon announcing it had received word that its tower will remain open thanks to new federal funding. As we've reported before, the air control tower serving Columbia Regional Airport was on a list [pdf] of regional towers that the FAA was planning to close.

Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, told Reuters "This victory is thanks to a bipartisan coalition of senators and congressmen and women who came together to demonstrate that there are more responsible ways to cut spending than by compromising safety."

The Senator was referring to a recent congressional decision to allow the FAA to transfer previously restricted funds to tower operations.  That decision was part of a surprise action by Congress near the end of its session.  FAA furloughs caused by sequestration cuts created airport delays around the country.  Congress gave the FAA greater financial flexibility, but did not actually increase the funding of the agency.

The funds available, however, will only keep regional airports open till this September.  Asked what happens then, Columbia Public Works spokesperson Steven Sapp said "At this point it's too early to say.  You know, [the FAA] will look for a new funding bill that gives either some direction or some funding....but at this point it's anybody's guess."

Sapp noted that COU was prepared to function without the additional safety of a regional tower.  He said a Springfield-based control tower was expected to remain open and would have been able to provide guidance to pilots flying in and out of Columbia.  "This is another layer of safety," he said.  "You want to keep as many of those layers of safety as possible."

The control tower in Springfield would not have been able to provide guidance below 50 feet.  Ground crews at COU would have been responsible for spotting hazards at that height.

Here is the press release from Columbia Regional Airport:

Don Elliott, Airport Manager for Columbia Regional Airport received the following statement from the FAA this afternoon - "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today that DOT has determined that the recently enacted Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013 will allow the FAA to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep the 149 low activity contract towers originally slated for closure in June open for the remainder of fiscal year 2013. The FAA will also put $10 million towards reducing cuts and delays in core NextGen programs and will allocate approximately $11 million to partially restore the support of infrastructure in the national airspace system." "This is very good news for air service as a whole", stated Elliott. "This retains a layer of safety for the aviation industry which fits our primary goal at Columbia Regional Airport of safety." The notice does indicate that the funding will keep the towers open through September of this year. It does not indicate what may happen in October.

Ryan Famuliner joined KBIA in February 2011. Ryan previously worked as a general assignment reporter and videographer at WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind. and as a reporter and anchor at the Missourinet radio network in Jefferson City, MO. He’s reported nationally on NPR and WNYC’s The Takeaway.
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