Airports to lose air traffic controllers

Loss of air controllers means communciation up to pilots

NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY - Two airports in Eastern Carolina are on the FAA list to lose air traffic controllers, just days after President Obama signed an order to begin an $85 billion reduction in the federal budget.

Tom Braaten, director of the Coastal Carolina Regional Airport in New Bern, told NewsChannel 12 that come April 7, air traffic controllers will no longer man the tower at his airport.

Kinston Regional Jetport was also on the list to lose air traffic controllers, but it has not received official confirmation.

NewsChannel 12's inquiries to Delta Airlines and U-S Airways as to whether the loss of controllers would affect service to New Bern were not answered.

There are no on-site controllers at Pitt-Greenville Airport or Albert J. Ellis Airport in Onslow County.

Those are the only other two airports in the area that offer commercial service.

Pilots who need clearance to land at Pitt-Greenville talk to controllers near Washington, D.C.

Flights get clearance to land in Onslow County from controllers in Wilmington.

Delta and U-S Airways offer service to Albert J. Ellis; U-S Airways is the only commercial service in Greenville.

The air traffic controllers are contracted workers, not airport employees. Four controllers will now be out of a job at Coastal Carolina, according to Braaten. Meanwhile, five positions will be cut at Kinston Regional, if the airport receives notice.

"They're true members of our team, so I'd hate to see this happen for them," Bratten said. "I'd hate to see the whole FAA furlough in some other places, because that could cause some dents in the efficiency of the system.  You have fewer people to give clearances and fewer people to watch radars and route them in."

Braaten said the next steps are to speek with MCAS Cherry Point to see how and if they will assist with the change.

News Channel 12 reached out to Cherry Point officials, who said the base does not anticipate an added work load because of the tower closure.

The decision comes after President Obama signed an order on March 1 to begin sequestration. The order allowed an $85 billion reduction in federal defense and domestic spending between now and October.

Commercial flights will not be impacted by the cuts, but local pilots said  taking off and landing will be much more difficult.

This isn't the first time Coastal Carolina Regional Airport has operated without air traffic controllers.  From the 1980's to 1999, the tower sat vacant.

"We used  to do all those things before we had a tower, so we'll just do them again," he said." "(We'll) break out the old plans and go for it."

Braaten said the runway will still be able to operate safely without the traffic controllers, but some pilots who use the runway do not agree.

"My concern is if someone is not paying attention or listening to the radio and misses a call," Breck Neer, general aviation pilot said.  "That's when you have problems, and that's when air traffic control is your back up."

Pitt-Greenville Airport in Greenville and Albert J. Ellis Airport in Jacksonville currently operate without air traffic controllers as well. 

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