The House has passed a plan that could potentially keep the tower at Briscoe Field and other private airfields open.
The FAA announced in March it would eliminate funding for the towers as part of the agency’s required $637 million budget cuts under sequestration. In early April, the closure date was scheduled for June 15. Now, that date may be even further in the future, if at all.
According to News-Press.com, the Senate agreed unanimously late Thursday to "allow the Federal Aviation Administration to shift $253 million from other accounts so it can end furloughs and keep towers open at smaller airports nationwide." The House approved the decision today.
For local pilots and business owners at the field, that’s very good news.
“If we lost even one jet because of the tower being shut down, it would be a huge hit,” said John Gibbs, owner of Aircraft Specialists in Lawrenceville.
And that’s a hit that Gwinnett County should be prepared to fight, according to Gibbs. A 2011 study on the economic impact of the airport on the county states that $85MM in revenue is brought in by Briscoe Field annually. It supports 260 employees and creates an additional 104 jobs from spending by general aviation visitors.
The county receives nearly $140,000 in taxes from gas and property taxes. One jet aircraft pays ad-valorem tax, hangar rent, fuel sales, fuel flowage fees, detail services, maintenance, and many other associated expenses on and off airport.
Currently, Briscoe Field is the third busiest airport in Georgia. The addition of a tower was a major catalyst in the growth of the airport. Business owners and pilots alike fear that the closure of the towers would cause an unnecessary hit to the local economy, as well as endangering pilots coming into Gwinnett County.
"If we’re going to be a world class county, we need a world class airport," said Jimmy Norton, with Fly Gwinnett Forward.
Paula Hastings, another member of Fly Gwinnett Forward, has a son who will soon be getting his pilot's license.
"My son has grown up at the airport," said Hastings. "He's an avid aviation buff and has known his whole life he wants to fly. But I don’t know if I’m comfortable with him learning to fly at a non-towered airport. With the flight schools out there, how will it affect the safety of the student pilots?"
If this legislation fails to keep the tower at Briscoe, John Gibbs has another idea: let the county pay for it instead of the Feds.
"It's a huge item for economic development, and it's underrealized," he stated. If the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners were to consider Gibbs' proposal, they wouldn't be the only ones doing so. Westmoreland County, in Pennsylvania, is taking a look at doing just that.
In their case, a group of private investors will also be donating a chunk of cash to keep the tower open, according to TribLive.com. Oneida County, in New York state, has proposed doing the same.
Mandatory furloughs for air-traffic controllers, blamed for widespread delays at airports, have also been ended through the bill passed today.