Maine congressional delegation fights to keep overnight hours at Bangor airport tower

Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso
Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso
Posted April 06, 2013, at 3:10 p.m.
Last modified April 07, 2013, at 4:57 p.m.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in February 2013.
Margaret Williams | Sen. Angus King's office
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in February 2013.

BANGOR, Maine — All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation stood in opposition of a possible elimination of the overnight shift at the Bangor International Airport air traffic control tower on Friday.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree sent a joint letter to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Michael Huerta asking to keep Bangor’s tower staffed 24 hours a day.

The delegation said the community and economy may take a hit if flights are not able to operate at BIA because of additional operational and insurance costs.

“These flights would either be eliminated or relocated to another airport, costing BGR up to $2 million in lost direct revenue and disrupting tourism throughout the surrounding communities,” the delegation wrote.

The letter is in response to notice sent out by LaHood and Huerta on Feb. 22 that BIA is one of 60 airport towers nationwide that will have overnight shifts eliminated. The notice also calls for furlough days for a majority of Federal Aviation Administration’s 47,000 employees and closing 149 air traffic control towers in an effort to reduce expenditures by approximately $600 million for the rest of the fiscal year because of the possibility of federal budget cuts.

The moves were expected to take effect in April, but have since been delayed until at least June, according to the FAA.

Maine’s delegation holds that the Bangor International Airport air traffic control tower is vital to national security and should remain open 24 hours a day.

“Given the national significance of BGR to both civilian and military aviation, we strongly urge you to maintain the airport’s full-time ATCT operations,” the delegation wrote. “Maintaining these hours is in the best interest of the flying public and will ensure our servicemen and women can continue their national security missions without being placed at unnecessary risk.”

The delegation said the criteria used by the FAA to determine which airports should face cuts didn’t take into account other factors.

“BGR is a joint-use civilian-military airport that is vital to both the mission of our Air National Guard, and to the safety and security of our civilian air transportation system,” they wrote. “We feel that the criteria … do not account for the strategic role BGR fills in our nation’s aviation system.”

The airport is home to the 101st Air Refueling Wing of the Maine Air National Guard and is a designated Noble Eagle alert site — referring to Department of Defense homeland security operations. The delegation notes that Bangor’s around-the-clock control tower, with its full terminal radar services, was a key determinant for being chosen as a Noble Eagle alert site.

It also is the first airport for inbound flights from Europe and the last airport for flights from the U.S. to Europe. The Bangor airport frequently is used as a diversion stop because of those reasons.

“Its position along the highly trafficked Atlantic air routes has resulted in more than 650 diversion flights to BGR since 2005, an average of more than two diversion flights per week,” the delegation said. “Reducing overnight hours at the BGR tower would inhibit the airport’s ability to provide these critical services and would place the traveling public at unnecessary risk.”

Bangor International Airport Director Tony Caruso said on Saturday that he appreciates the support of Maine’s congressional delegation.

Though FAA’s decision to eliminate overnight hours has been delayed, Caruso said the airport is taking steps to be prepared in case it does happen.

“We’ll continue to develop our contingency plans should this happen,” he said. “It’s prudent that Bangor continues in developing those plans.”

He said the airport will be installing pilot control lighting and taking other measures. If the overnight hours are eliminated, Caruso said the airport will remain open 24 hours a day, but will have to take different actions at night.

“Boston Center will continue to provide radar coverage for a certain altitude for aircraft,” he said. “Then aircraft will coordinate with each other [to stay a safe distance apart]. There will still be personnel on the field to handle the aircraft. Pilots are trained to operate in that environment.”

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