CHARLOTTE COUNTY - The control tower at the Punta Gorda Airport may not be closing after all. A bill passed by Congress last week has the local airport holding out hope.
Some passengers have been concerned about the tower's closing. Airport directors like Gary Quill too. "In 34 years in the airport business I have never seen anything like this."
As part of sequestration earlier this year, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it could not afford to staff the towers. "This is an entirely manufactured crisis. This is just so frustrating. There wasn't a reason for it to happen."
However, late last week Congress passed a Senate version of legislation regarding the FAA. It should end furloughs of air traffic controllers which is blamed for delays across the country. It could also allow them more flexibility to move funds around to cover the proposed closings. "Quite a bit of hope. Hopefully this is at the end. We may find out in the next few days."
It's not yet a done deal because the FAA so far hasn't said it will do it. Some have argued small airports like PGD can operate fine without the towers.
Quill says it's a must for an airport now seeing more than 70,000 take offs and landing a year and looking to grow. They have even joined a lawsuit against the federal agency. "This is certainly first off a safety issue. Second an issue of economic impact."
The bill would allow the FAA to use millions from its airport improvement funds and other accounts. Quill says even if it does happen this year it could still be an issue moving forward. "We may have to fight the battle again next year."
Quill says they will continue to wait to see if the FAA agrees to fund the towers. If not, it's expected they will close in mid June.